The 2016 Pony Club Hannah Francis Award Presented to Evie Toombes
The 2016 Hannah Francis Award for Talent, Courage and Inspiration was awarded to ‘charming, positive and mature’ para-rider Evie Toombes, who was nominated by her Branch DC for bravely overcoming the difficulties she has faced throughout her young life.
Fifteen year old Evie, a Member of the South Wold Hunt North Branch, was born with a form of Spina Bifida which affects her lower legs, bladder and bowel function. Despite this, she continues to take part in Pony Club activities and educates other young people with bladder and bowel issues; mentoring them and encouraging them to have the confidence to take up activities.
“Evie’s saying is ‘find a way – not an excuse’” her mum, Caroline Toombes, told us. “This was tested to the limit last year as she suffered another decline in health due to Gastroparesis, or paralysed stomach, but Evie’s dedication far outweighs her exhaustion, and she competes for and attends training with her Pony Club as often as she can.”
“Evie’s condition means she is frequently in hospital, but she will make every effort to compete for her Branch,” said South Wold Hunt North Branch DC, Bethan Leather, who nominated Evie for the Award.
Evie’s positive attitude and commitment has helped her to numerous high profile wins, including the Senior National Grade III Show Jumping title at the Riding for the Disabled Association Championships. “It was an exhausting six-hour drive, and as her mother I seriously questioned the sanity of it!” Caroline said. “I will never understand how Evie mustered the energy and focus as she fought off the competition, but somehow she did and I knew I’d made the right choice in taking her.”
Evie is currently riding and competing when she is well enough, but her weight continues to be an issue and tests have shown she has a narrowed lower intestine; leading to pain and sickness as she struggles to digest food. Her surgeon is currently discussing options to find a way forward and to improve Evie’s quality of life. She is also awaiting further MRI scans to assess the state of her tethered spinal cord which is causing increased pain in her back and legs.
Evie spoke of how honoured she was to be nominated for this special award. She said: “Hannah was a true inspiration to many, and receiving this award is absolutely incredible. No matter how bad things may be, the fun and horsey therapy I enjoy whilst riding and at The Pony Club far outweighs the bad times.”
Caroline added “The Pony Club, specifically the South Wold Hunt North Branch, has always found a way to include Evie. This has helped her develop confidence in all areas of life, which is a fantastic stepping stone at such a vulnerable age.”
As winner of The Hannah Francis Award for Talent, Courage and Inspiration, Evie was presented with a certificate and a statue of a Thoroughbred horse head which was chosen because of its meaningful expression; gazing, ears pricked, into the future.
There were a number of very strong nominations for the Hannah Francis Award, and the difficult task of choosing the winner fell to the judging panel. The panel, which consisted of Hannah’s parents James and Rachel Francis, Hannah’s Branch DC Miles Toulson-Clarke, Hannah’s Pony Club Area Representative Louly Thornycroft and Pony Club Chairman Mary Tuckett, thought long and hard to make their choice, but after much discussion they agreed that Evie should be the worthy winner; with James Francis commenting that he could hear some of Hannah’s determination in her.
Created to honour Hannah Francis for the bravery she showed throughout her battle with cancer, during which time she set up the Willberry Wonder Pony charity, the Hannah Francis Award will be presented annually to an inspirational and talented Pony Club Member who has overcome adversity or carried out an act to help others.
As was Hannah’s wish, her charity continues to raise money for the vital research of osteosarcoma; a comparatively rare and low profile form of bone cancer which attracts little funding for research. Funds raised also grant ‘Willberry’s Wishes’ giving seriously ill people and their families unique and memorable equine experiences; an initiative developed due to the inspiration Hannah drew from riding and being around horses throughout her treatment.