‘Nothing’s gonna stop me now, and if I can do it, anyone can’
‘Doctors said I would never be an athlete’: Young rider excels with ex-racehorse despite heart problem
14-year-old equestrian who was told she would ‘never be an athlete’ due to heart disease excels in new discipline with her old race horse.
Amber Sterrey, based in Warwickshire, was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition in which a person’s heart has four defects. Amber had a hole in her heart, one ventricle too big, one ventricle too small, and another ventricle problem.
Lee, Amber’s mother, said H&H her daughter underwent surgery to treat her condition when she was around a year old, but doctors warned her she would struggle with sports in the future.
Despite this, Amber learned to ride a horse at the age of three and enjoyed competing in show jumping. In November 2021, she purchased former flat racehorse, Ignacio Zuloaga, known back home as Wilson. When she found out that Wilson had been retrained by his former owner Ness Woodhouse to compete in endurance, Amber decided to attend an event.
“I wasn’t looking for a former racehorse, but we found him and fell in love. When you think of a Thoroughbred, you often think they have a cool head, but it’s quite the opposite,” Amber said. H&H.
“The plan was to continue show jumping because that’s what I’ve done all my life, but we found out that Wilson really doesn’t like poles. When Ness suggested I go with him to one of his endurance runs, I thought Wilson really liked him and thought we’d keep going. I’ve always liked doing long hacks, and Wilson seems to like being able to look around and not really have to focus, like he would have in racing.
Amber and Wilson finished fifth in their first 26km graded event in April, and Wilson received the top mark — the highest mark — for fitness. The duo went on to compete in a number of tag team events, including being part of the winning Hearts ‘n’ Cromwell team at Interregionals earlier in the year.
When the team qualified for the UK Endurance Red Dragon Festival in Wales in September but unable to attend, Amber decided to take part in the two-day Dragon’s Claw Challenge at the festival as an individual. Amber and Wilson won the challenge and Amber received the Young Rider Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Every ride I had done before that had been on flat ground with only small hills, so I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw in Wales. Some of the hills were practically vertical,” Amber said.
“On the first day, I started having trouble breathing as Wilson had gotten quite strong, and a rider who came up behind stopped to check on me. It’s really good that everyone really care about each other. I was exhausted when I came back but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from competing on day two. I wanted to take on the challenge for Wilson.
Amber, who hopes to continue with endurance and see more young runners in the sport, said she isn’t letting her heart condition stop her.
“When I was younger I tried tetraathlon but I really started to struggle with swimming and running, but equestrian suits me much better. You have to think of two brains, not just the yours, so I think more about Wilson than what I do,” Amber said.
“Because I have a condition, I’m different from people, but I’m not really different. I don’t want to be put down or compete in a lower class, I want to be up there. The doctors said I don’t I would never be an athlete, but this phrase stuck in my head and I want to prove them wrong.
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Credits: Helen Gheorghiu
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