Reflections 10 years on… By Tadhgh Martin

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On 4th February it was 10 years since my sister Fionnghuala (Fin u la) Fi for short, was diagnosed with a Brain Tumour. I can still remember her coming to see me at Prontaprint Stratford upon Avon, after she had seen the GP to say he believes she had water on the brain. This was causing a build-up of pressure, which was the cause of her persistent headaches.

At the time Fionnghuala was doing her Masters in Equine Science at Edinburgh University, aged 25 with a focus on becoming a university lecturer. She had a house with her boyfriend, two horses and worked full time. We were extremely close and spent many evenings and weekends socialising together.

The initial thought was one of relief, they had found the cause of her pain and off to the hospital for an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, followed by a simple procedure to relieve the pressure. A few weeks of rest and recuperation, life would be back to normal.

However, at the age of 22 it didn’t cross my mind that an MRI scan the same day in the NHS should set alarm bells going. I’m sure it did for my parents, but they never let on. That evening however, came the news over the phone that in fact the MRI had diagnosed a brain tumour. A tumour so large that it needed surgery straight away.


I will never forget how calm my sister was, BRAVE in fact.

As we met with the surgeon to discuss the procedure her scientific brain took over. She wanted to know every last detail from how they would make the insertions to the process of extracting the tumour tissue. I remember the surgeon explaining that the surgery had risks and that she would never be the same person again and would certainly never be able to ride again. My naivety led me to think she just needed a couple of years to get back to someone close to who she was before. She’s still young, Fi has her life in front of her.

After fifteen hours in the operating room, I remember walking down the corridor of Intensive Care to see her lying in bed in an induced coma. At that point reality hit home. My sister, my friend had undergone massive trauma.

In the end, she had eight major operations in seven weeks to save her life.

Operations that were necessary to preserve life, but have had ever lasting changes to her and her family. Fi now has traumatic brain injury, daily seizures and was left paralysed on her left side.

The sixteen months in hospital had a severe impact on all of our relationships. Fi finally returned to the family home. My parents became something more than a Mother and Father to Fi. The primal instinct to protect and care for her on reflection was nothing but incredible love. Searching for the best support to ensure she had every chance of regaining a life, became their number one focus.

At this point I was still living at home, but seeing my sister requiring 24 hour support to achieve tasks similar to those of a toddler, having carers and health professionals in the house was extremely difficult for me. My personal life had fallen apart and I felt lost!

During this time however, there was one constant – Prontaprint, and a manager in Alex Graham who gave me every bit of support my family and I needed, flexible working hours, an open door to talk to him whenever I needed and goals and incentives to give me a focus.

Who was to know that seventeen months after my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour my Dad would also be diagnosed with a tumour on the brain and pass away within 3 weeks of diagnosis. He must have known, but did not want to worry us hoping it would resolve itself.

I guess that 17 months on reflection made me realise that you have to take every opportunity that comes your way. Live and love life!

I personally was very fortunate to have Alex as an external support more than a manager! I also had some amazing friends, the saying, ‘consider yourself lucky to count true friends on one hand’, always springs to mind. I was obviously extremely lucky to have friends who had drifted away after school but then came to the fore. It was their persistence to keep my chin up and keep going that led me to find my wife, enter into a business partnership with Alex and have a wonderful toddler.

The same can be said for Fi. Friends came forward one after another to bring things back into her life, her love of horses being the main one. Giving Fi access to this world, back on the yard around more familiar smells and sounds began to give her purpose.

Riding for the Disabled  – a lifeline

With Fionnghuala’s lack of mobility however, her old stomping grounds couldn’t give her the sensation of riding again. This is where the incredible RDA team came in.


Initially at Lowlands Farm, now RDA head office, Fi began to ride again every Wednesday afternoon. I remember the first time Fi managed to take steps again after eighteen months and what an achievement this felt like to me. But seeing a smile beam across her face that first Wednesday made me realise that it wasn’t necessarily mobility but the feeling of being in control in an environment she loved that made her happy!


With further development of her skills on Lowlands Mechanical Horse ‘Charley’,  they began implementing strategies to combat her weak left side. Fionnghuala now combines this time with riding Alfie at Home Farm – Stratford upon Avon RDA. (more information can be found here https://www.rda-stratford.org.uk and here https://en-gb.facebook.com/RDA.StratfordUponAvon)

I recently asked my mother about her thoughts on how the RDA have made a real difference to Fi’s quality of life and she commented that, “the feeling of a horse beneath Fi again made her feel confident and relaxed. She loved being out in the fresh air with the stable smells and sun.”  My mother also went on to say that Fi said, totally unprompted to Alice her support worker, that she “really felt she had some control and independence back in her life.”


Pictured; Fionnghuala at the celebration of Stratford upon Avon RDA’s 50th Anniversary, being one of the founder groups of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

We cannot thank the RDA team and the executive (Ed Bracher) enough and Ro Pudden at Lowlands Farm RDA for the work with Charley. Karen Arnold and Donna Jenkins at Stratford RDA have been able to supply Fi with a lifeline, something to focus her weeks around and to give her a sense of purpose. This charity and its volunteers will be providing this very same lifeline to many others.

Help us to continue the fabulous service of the RDA

Sadly, at the moment nobody is able to access these lifelines, but it is imperative that they are kept afloat during these times of lockdown, to provide this service to the thousands they help daily across the UK.

As a company Prontaprint would like to support the RDA during these troubled times and we are delighted to announce that we will be donating £500.00 to the Stratford upon Avon RDA

Can you help us to reach our target of £2,200, which will pay for the upkeep of their 2 horses and 3 ponies for one month

If you can spare a few pounds to help us it will mean an awful lot to the charity and it will have a big impact on the lives of many.   


Or, if you feel you could sponsor one of their riders for £200 per annum please click here :  


Stratford Group’s Chair, Donna Jenkins says that, “The impact these lockdowns have had on some of our riders, who gain so much from attending our sessions, is huge – both physically and mentally. It has never been so clear just how much the time they spend with our horses helps. In a bid to ensure these sessions can continue as quickly as possible we need to keep our horses well cared for, in work and fit.  We are so grateful to Prontaprint, it was a lovely surprise when we heard that they were able to donate to us which will be a real help.  We support and work with many people who are more vulnerable to infection, so we had to make the decision to close our doors until the situation with Coronavirus improves. This comes at a big price for us, as without riders we have not got an income apart from our sponsorship and donations.  Our loyal horses still need feed, hay, and to see a farrier – possibly even care from the vets which all adds up, all with no clear idea of when we will be able to start activities again.”


Thank you for reading and if you can donate to this worthy cause you will be helping to make a real difference. Please share far and wide!


Donate now

Kind regards
Tadhgh (Tig) Martin

4 thoughts on “Reflections 10 years on… By Tadhgh Martin”

  1. Tadhgh
    I am near to tears. I am so very proud of you and all you have done to support your family over the last very difficult decade.
    The local RDA centres have been an absolute lifeline for Fionnghuala and many other service users and we have to hope that they will soon be allowed to reopen and continue their excellent work.

  2. My daughter and I have been involved one way or another with Stratford upon Avon RDA for over 25 years. It never ceases to amaze me the length our volunteers will go to achieve the best possible experience for the riders and improve their mental and physical well being.

    Reading about Fi’s story from her loving brother Tig was so moving and brings home once again the importance of our RDA groups especially now during a Covid epidemic. We thank you all.

    1. Hi Hilary
      Thank you so much for your kind words.
      You are right the lengths everyone at the RDA goes to, to support riders and their family is incredible and beyond expectation.

      If we can support them during this difficult period of time its the least we can do.

      Kind regards
      Tadhgh (Tig) Martin

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