Saddle sensation Archie, 10, defies doctors’ predictions
Ten-year-old Archie Aston, a grin stretched from ear to ear, wraps his arms around Maisy, his 12-hands high pony. It’s an action described as a miracle by his parents, considering they were told when he was born that he would never walk unaided. Now the youngster, who can walk and stand thanks to the help of his horse-riding, competes at a national level and has even been on family ski-ing holidays. Archie, from Stockdalewath, near Dalston, was only 10-days-old when he was struck down with potentially life-threatening meningitis, which left him brain-damaged.
“He was fighting for his life in hospital. His dad, Mark, and I, were by his bedside for a month. We were devastated when we were told his future would be uncertain,” said mum, Anna.
As a toddler Archie could only walk with the help of a reverse zimmer frame.
Archie had speech therapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, and specialist equipment in the family home to stretch his muscles and aid his development.
“Archie has cerebral palsy. It was hard when he was younger.
“He didn’t make eye contact and his hands were quite tight. But family attitude helps.
“Things will be more difficult for Archie but that is the hand he has been dealt,” said Anna.
But it was when he turned four and became involved in horse riding that Archie’s ‘miracle’ happened. Anna had always wanted Archie to be around horses, ‘because of the social side’.
“I rented a pony for him before he was walking to spend time around horses and out in the fresh air.”
“We also found that being on horseback helped to relax his muscles.”
Things moved forward a pace when Archie became a pupil at Ivegill School.
“Gillian Yarrow from Carlisle Riding for the Disabled was the cook at Ivegill School, and it was her that suggested he come to them for lessons,” said Anna.
“We celebrate all the achievements that Archie has made, but the progress he made atop his saddle was by far the most miraculous.
“He has competed in pony club competitions since he was five.
“He took part in an able class at Penrith Show in the showing and handy hunter classes. He came second in the latter and sixth in the showing,” said the 34-year-old.
When he was six Archie took part in the RDA national championships at Hartpury College in Gloucester. Hundreds of competitors of all abilities took part in the event and Archie came second in the countryside challenge, fifth in dressage, third in combined training and in best turned out. Archie is also competing in the RDA regional competition next month and is hoping to qualify for the RDA National Finals at Hartpury in July. With a proud look on her face, Anna watched as Archie went through his paces on his pony, Maisy, which he says he has a ‘special’ relationship with.
“I push him,” Anna confided. “Some days he is tired, he doesn’t want to ride, but when he gets on his pony, he forgets all that.”
“RDA is an incredibly special place. It’s where friendships are made, where nobody is treated differently and where disability fades into the background,” added Anna.
“Archie is striving to keep up with children all the time, but at RDA he is with children with similar needs.”
Anna, who rides herself, helps out at the RDA when they meet weekly at Blackdyke, on the outskirts of Carlisle.
“We are massively grateful to the volunteers. It is a fantastic atmosphere, and hugely rewarding.”
When asked what he liked best about his horse riding, Archie says it is sometimes brilliant and sometimes horrific. The latter is a word he uses to describe falling off.
“I fell flat on my back once. I was winded and couldn’t breathe. I was crying, but I got up and got back on the horse,” he said.
“I feel strong and healthy when I am riding my pony.
“I help with the mucking out but make sure I keep myself safe. I wear a riding hat, shoes and gloves,” he added.
“Archie does have a comprehension that horses are big animals and can be unpredictable and does have an awareness of the need for safety,” said Anna.
As well as ski-ing on family holidays – Archie has a sister, Connie, nine, and a step-brother, Nathan, 19 – he also enjoys swimming, and is desperate to halt his instruction and take to the water on his own.
“I’ve told him when he can swim in his pyjamas and pick up a brick off the pool floor that’s when his lessons will stop,” said Anna.
“He loves ski-ing, and we have adapted instruction so we can ski as a family. Ski-ing in boots has also helped Archie to walk.”
Gran, Joyce Holmes, 64, from Staveley, says she cannot put into words how she feels about Archie’s achievements.
“He’s a very special little boy. We love him dearly.”
Added Anna: “I always thought he would do this. I am proud of what he has achieved.”
“The main goal of his dad, Mark and I is to work hard for Archie, and to make sure he is provided for. It is a huge focus for us both,” said Anna.