A RIDER has returned to eventing at the age of 65, more than three decades after she was hit by serious illness.

The life of former GB pentathlete and eventer Gill Suttle was changed beyond recognition when she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

The disease forced an end to her teaching career, and left her looking for a way to build a new life around heavily incapacitating illness.

Not to be defeated, Gill combined her interests and opted for travel writing, using horses to overcome her mobility and baggage carrying problems.

But a trip to Turkmenistan was to have life-changing consequences.

She met there a pack-carrying former racehorse called Atamekan (Kaan) and knew that his future in the country would be “nasty, brutish and short”.

"I spent two years trying to find a way to bring him to Britain. His 13-month, 3,000-mile journey overland brought him to Ross-on-Wye in July 1999, and so began the second half of both our lives."

Kaan blossomed, and showed tremendous jumping ability and aptitude, but unable to realise his abilities herself, Gill launched him as a stud stallion.

But tragedy struck when Kaan broke a leg in his field and had to be euthanised, while Gill was hit with rheumatoid arthritis.

However Ainur, Kaan's first foal, was now winning at multiple disciplines, and other progeny won endurance races and national showing championships.

"I clapped and celebrated, and ground my teeth. When would it be my turn?" Gill said.

That turn was to come, with research by ME specialist Dr Sarah Myhill opening doors that had previously appeared closed.

Riding in wrist splints, Gill cautiously began entering Ainur in tiny show jumping classes at local shows, progressing to cross-country, and eventually becoming strong enough to compete Ainur's brother, 15-year-old Tedzhen.

He took three tries to go through the start of his first dressage test, but by the end of that season, he had collected a silver trophy.

Eighteen months later, last October, Gill contested her first affiliated One-Day-Event since 1982 with Teddy, and previous nerves were swept away at Chepstow last week, where Teddy romped round the cross-country to produce his first clear round at this level.

With three British Eventing 90s now under their belt, Gill hopes to reach her goal, the BE100, by the end of the year.

"Twenty years after I began to establish Kaan's sport horse dynasty, now numbering 23 descendants and growing, I'm at last enjoying its fruits myself," she said.

"And about time, too. Despite our combined age of 82, Teddy and I are having a ball."