Martin Atkinson - Getting back on the horse and showing people that anything is possible

Martin Atkinson and his wife Sybil Atkinson are horse enthusiasts who live in rural Rutland and have led and continue to lead remarkable lives.

Born in Yorkshire, Martin knew from a young age that he wanted to work with horses but followed his father’s advice and completed a four-year hotel management course specialising in banqueting, which took him around the UK meeting fascinating people in prestigious hotels. While working at the Zetland Hotel, in a twist of fate, hotelier Sir John Miller (Crown Equerry) introduced Martin to Miss Marian Caaington Smith of Knossington, who was looking for someone to help her breed and train her horses. From here, Martin’s equestrian career took off and he moved to Knossington, where he worked with and became great friends with Miss Carrington Smith for 40 years, which Martin refers to as “the best years of my life.”

After the passing of Miss Carrington Smith, Martin decided to give up his professional work with horses but continued to ride frequently for pleasure with his wife Sybil having three horses at home. In 2013, Martin went into hospital for an ankle fusion operation which went awry after a sepsis infection. Faced with the choice of losing his leg or his life, Martin opted to have his left leg amputated below the knee. Martin visited the Dorset Orthopaedic clinic in Burton upon Trent pre amputation to learn about the procedure where he met his current prosthetist, Moose Baxter, who educated him on what to expect. After his surgery, Martin had only one thing on his mind and that was to get back to doing what he loves, riding. He never used any walking aids and was determined with his rehab. Martin initially went to the Dorset Orthopaedic clinic in Manchester where he met prosthetist Jamie Gillespie before transferring to the Burton clinic where he was fitted with an Echelon foot prosthesis for daily use and a Blade XT (running blade) for competitions where he shows his horses in hand. Just two months and four days after the amputation, Martin was able to ride his horse again. “Jamie was a great support physically and psychologically after my surgery, being an amputee himself meant he could relate to how I felt. Moose and all the Burton team have also been fantastic; the running blade especially has been a huge success and the leg fits comfortably,” Martin said.

Martin and Sybil have continued to show their horse Cherry in hand and compete in carriage shows, winning numerous competitions at the national level. A professional in his trade, Martin is a regular judge in driving competitions including the Horse of the Year Show. Alongside this, Martin works at the Fords of Oakham Funeral Directors while continuing to freelance as a butler. He has been asked many times to undertake the role of butler at dinner parties including an evening for the Cottesmore Hunt in the 1970s attended by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and a party for John Major during his first year as Prime Minister. Because Martin has a strong friendship with the former prime minister, he named two of his horses, Johnnie and Norma, after the former PM and his wife.

Behind Martins motivation and busy lifestyle has always been his horses. “I know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. I know what it means to me and others to be back on a horse. I didn’t know anyone who rode with a prosthetic before, but I want to help others as much as possible, if you can see what I can do, then you can see what is possible. I had no interest in climbing mountains or running marathons, I always just wanted to go back to what I always did in life.”