Cliff O’Farrell has become the first recipient of a special bursary from War Horse Memorial, set up thanks to the generous support of you our volunteers and friends.
An explosion in Afghanistan ten years ago ended his career with the Household Cavalry and threatened his life. But despite five years in recovery, gruelling physiotherapy and tough times, Cliff O’Farrell says with a loving wife and a new son he has plenty to be thankful for as 2020 approaches. He is grateful for your support, and is determined to help other former soldiers struggling to cope by sharing his love of horses.
He was the first injured serviceman to try polo, and with his Help for Heroes teammates he’s achieved great success, winning man of the match in the Best of British Para Polo match and helping to raise tens of thousand of pounds for military charities playing matches across the U.K. and promoting horses as a good sport for recovery, His next goal is to get Para polo accepted as a sport in the Invictus Games, the sporting event set up by Prince Harry for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.
Cliff says he doesn’t recall much about what happened on December 11, 2009 – the day that was to change his life forever. “There were four of us in the open top Jackal armoured vehicle when the explosion went off. We were wearing body armour so we were protected from the blast, and luckily no one was killed. But when I came to I realised something had gone terribly wrong. I had gone over the steering wheel and my left leg was wrapped around the gear selector as I was knocked unconscious as my head hit the front of the vehicle. This image shows the extent of the damage to the vehicle.
“Five hours later I woke up in Camp Bastion hospital, in Helmand Province. The doctors said I had severe injuries to my pelvis and spine and my left leg had been shattered in ten places. It was twisted and scarred with shrapnel wounds and I was told it would be a lot easier for me if I agreed to have my leg amputated. I thought long and hard but decided against it. I was taking a massive chance but I made the right choice or did I ?”
For Cliff, who is now 39, and lives near Windsor, in Berkshire, the turning point was meeting Amanda, his hospital nurse who later became his wife and mother of his much loved baby son, eight-month-old Flynn. He says: “After specialist treatment in Birmingham I was taken to Headley Court, in Surrey for my recovery and rehabilitation, and Amanda was based in the ward that was to become my home for five years. We got talking. I didn’t have to explain or pretend with her. She had seen my scars for herself. Six months later we got engaged and we were married on January 7, 2012 at the Guards Church, in Windsor.”
Cliff was warned to expect the limitations that his injuries might determine, but he’s defied the doctors and is pushing back the boundaries in a way he could never have imagined five years ago. “I was told I would be stuck in an office so I decided to make the cockpit of an aeroplane my office. I qualified as a private pilot in aeroplanes and eventually gained a commercial helicopter pilots license. I am a determined sort of guy but it is tough being a 39-year trying to do what a 29-year old would be doing. I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of the Household Cavalry Foundation. I owe them such a debt. ”
Through it all his life long love of horses has, in his words, “ kept me sane and helped me find myself again. In the Household Cavalry horses play a big part in ceremonial duties and every cavalryman has to be able to ride. As soon as I was able I was back in the saddle and once you feel that connection that horses can give you it helps you reflect and put things into perspective. My goal now is to help others heal by developing the sport of Para polo. There is a perception that it is elitist and I want to change all that.”
Over the years Cliff took on many challenges from completing an Iron Man triathlon on crutches to swimming around Jersey for charities but it was horses that made a huge impact in Cliff’s recovery from taking on Stunt Riding and Archery on horseback at The Centre for Horseback Combat and Falconry on horseback in Devon, Endurance riding in South Africa to completing a horse trek over 7 days covering 250km in India with other injured servicemen and women on Marwari horses. He is also involved with charities such as Power of Polo which provides support for those with social, economic or health challenges and Polo for Heroes that provided much needed support for those injured during their military service.
“Getting my life back on track has been hard I don’t mind admitting. The physical scars heal and tell their own story, but there’s a lot of anger to work through, and you have to work through it. One lesson I’ve learned is that life doesn’t stop, or wait for you to catch up.”
We will be working with Cliff and his colleague Rebecca Halliwell-Coutts over the coming weeks and months to help them realise their ambitions to help others through their love of horses, and they in turn have agreed to join us as Ambassador volunteers. On behalf of all our Ambassadors, benefitting charities and volunteers – both in the UK and abroad – can we wish you a very Happy New Year!