A special rescue cob with a mysterious past has proved to be just the right medicine for Fiona Bloomfield, who was left wondering if she would ever get back in the saddle after a serious riding mishap.
Little is known about Mario’s early years, but the British charity Blue Cross knows one thing for sure: Mario and Buckinghamshire-based Fiona are the perfect match.
Fate brought the pair together.
A relaxing ride with a friend turned into a nightmare for Fiona last Boxing Day, when a unadvertised clay pigeon shoot spooked both horses. Fiona was flung to the ground from her terrified mount.
“Initially I thought I was OK,” she recalls. “I was talking and I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain, and then I realised I needed to stay still.
“The ground was so cold, and the longer I lay there the more pain I felt. I thought I’d injured my pelvis but I didn’t want to take the risk. I had two kids at home and knew I couldn’t afford to get up without knowing I was OK.”
Fiona had suffered a fractured spine and needed medical attention immediately.
Her quick-thinking friend called for help and an air ambulance swiftly transported her to the local hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department.
They said that had it not been for the body protector Fiona was wearing, the fracture probably would have moved and she would have been paralysed. Just three millimetres was the difference between walking and not walking.
Fiona spent the following six months in a full body brace as her broken body slowly healed.
And alongside her extremely supportive husband, children and friends, the drive to ride again helped push her through rehabilitation.
She soon found what she thought would be the perfect pony to aid her recovery, but the match was not the right fit and for the second time in less than a year, Fiona was left with her confidence shattered.
That all changed when she met Mario. He passed into the care of the charity Blue Cross in 2015, having been transferred from the RSPCA.
Very little was known about his background.
He was backed at Blue Cross as a four-year-old and, with his sweet nature and willing attitude, he fast became a favourite with the grooms.
Mario was soon found a good home on the Blue Cross adoption scheme, but sadly his borrower’s circumstances changed and he needed to find another family.
Mario’s borrower spotted Fiona’s plea for a horse that could help her and knew the calm and friendly cob would be the perfect match.
Blue Cross arranged for Fiona to meet Mario in his current home, and the bond was instantaneous. Shortly afterwards he went to live with the Bloomfield family.
“The first time I got on him after I brought him home, I was only just getting back in the saddle after my accident,” Fiona says.
“We went out for a hack and I literally held my breath the whole way round, waiting for something to jump out of the bushes. I think I wanted to see the monsters before he did,” Fiona adds.
“I still felt like a china doll, like I was going to smash if I hit the floor again. But he never did, and every day just got easier and easier.”
Blue Cross horse welfare co-ordinator Jen Hubbard, who has closely followed Mario’s journey, said: “When I first met Fiona she was looking for a horse that would give her her confidence back after an accident and bring the enjoyment back to riding again.
“While he is still only young, Mario has proved older than his years and has done just this and more for Fiona.
“There isn’t anything they can’t do together and every time I see a picture of them out doing something new, Fiona has the biggest smile on her face. It’s been so lovely to watch their journey and to see them both grow in confidence together.
“Mario is a very special horse with a big heart who has found his perfect partner with Fiona.”
Blue Cross initially rehomed Mario to Fiona on loan, but having seen him become a central part of the family the charity has now transferred ownership to Fiona.
Mario is a perfect family pony. He came away with eight ribbons at his first gymkhana with Fiona’s children, who are aged 5 and 11.
He is a true favourite with her children’s friends too, as he is so placid that he’s happy to let anyone ride him.
Fiona says: “He has been the go-to cob actually, when we’ve gone to shows. When all the other ponies have kicked off and the kids have cried, and I say ‘put them on this one because this one will be fine’, and they’ve come home with their ribbons and they’ve been happy. There’s always a ‘let’s borrow Mario’, always!”
Not only has Fiona’s life changed forever thanks to her partnership with her beloved rescue pony, but the cheeky cob has found a home for life too, with Fiona saying she could never part with him.
When his riding days are over, Mario will enjoy a happy and peaceful retirement in the family home and he’ll never be lonely.
“You’re Super Mario, aren’t you?” says Fiona.