Jockey and ex-soldier Guy Disney has told a new ITV documentary that he wants to be considered simply as a jockey, rather than his amputated leg being the focus of stories about him.
The steeplechase jockey is the focus of Guy Disney – Moving Forward, which airs on ITV4 on Monday at 9pm.
The documentary tells the inside story of how he overcame the odds to become a race-winning jockey after losing the lower part of his right leg while serving in the cavalry regiment The Light Dragoons in Afghanistan in 2009.
Now he says he’d rather just be known for his racing exploits: “It’s so derogatory. ‘Well done, you’re racing with one leg…’ I can’t really be doing with that chat, if I’m honest. I can compete on my own level and if a horse does well and wins, I’m happy to take plaudits, not because of the leg, but because I’ve won the race.”
The show is part of the Against The Odds series, produced by ITV and funded by Coral, which has also featured jockey Hollie Doyle, former darts world champion Gerwyn Price, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and England prop Kyle Sinckler telling their stories.
Guy’s show also features contributions from his parents Fiona and John, his friend Charlie Dunn, Grand National-winning trainers Kim Bailey and David Pipe, world-renowned riding coach Yogi Breisner, and consultant doctor and barrister David Carey, who helped him regain his licence to ride again with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
Speaking about the life-changing attack while on patrol in the Helmand Province, he said: “I remember everything to the tee. We got to a tree line and then I remember it happening. The vehicle was hit and I remember seeing what was left of my leg and it was like holding onto a boot by its laces. There was just a bit of tendon holding my leg. The smell of burning flesh is something that will never leave me.
“It was a major arterial bleed, and the amount of blood you lose in 60 seconds, you start bleeding out. They put a tourniquet on in seconds and that saved my life. I knew one of the other casualties was bad and I said look how are the other guys? And he looked at me and I realised that one of them was dead and that was a pretty heart-wrenching moment.”
Referring to his colleague Private Robert Laws’ death, he said: “It’s something that’s always going to be there at the back of your mind. It should be, it’s a penance for losing someone. It’s my course of action that led to what happened. I think, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is write Robbie’s parents a letter. I’m not an overly emotional person, I don’t dwell on these things too much. I do go and see Wendy Laws every year I can. She’s raised over £100,000 for Help For Heroes and she’s a good one.”
After returning home and going through rehabilitation, the amateur jockey finished second in a charity race at Fakenham riding Oshkosh, trained by Kim Bailey. He reapplied for his licence with the BHA but was initially turned down for safety reasons: “I reapplied and it was a resounding no. Other than not going straight back to Afghanistan, it was one of the biggest failures that I really had. I just didn’t feel there was an attitude of let’s discuss and work out how we engage with this.”
His dad John said of his reaction: “When obstacles are put in his path he looks at ways at overcoming them. I think it’s his wholehearted determination to succeed at what’s put in front of him and what he wants to achieve.”
Speaking of his successful expeditions to the North and South Poles with the charitable organisation Walking With The Wounded he said: “We had so many people saying it wasn’t achievable…that there’s a reason amputees haven’t walked to the North Pole before. Standing on the top after dragging 90 kilos behind you is an incredible feeling.
“The thing is it’s about demystifying it and recognizing it’s achievable. You just break it down, normalise it. I also learnt that you need to learn to adapt in life and overcome and I think human beings are good at that.”
After returning from the Antarctic, he worked with David Carey to successfully reapply for his licence with the BHA, and the consultant doctor and barrister said: “He’d been initially turned down by the BHA probably for good reasons and we had to slowly build a case. The irony is I think we did too good a job. They’ve accepted it and couldn’t find anything wrong with it.”
David Pipe, who trained Rathlin Rose, the horse on which Guy Disney won the Royal Artillery Gold Cup in 2017, said: “We asked Guy to come down and school Rathlin Rose and they both got on really well. He knew he had a great horse to ride at the Royal Artillery. It’s a fairytale isn’t it? You plan these things but it doesn’t always happen.”
Speaking of racing in the Foxhunters’ Chase at The Grand National Festival, he said: “Like any club cricketer playing at Lords or a Sunday footballer playing at Wembley, that is where you want to compete. It was brilliant. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. For me I didn’t mind not winning. It was a hell of a thrill just doing it. It was completely exhilarating.”
Of working with Guy, riding coach Yogi Breisner said: “He has never ever used his leg as an excuse for not being able to do something. There was never a time when I thought he couldn’t do it. I have had the good fortune to work with some exceptional people. Having played a very small part in Guy’s journey has totally enriched my life because he’s a great person to be around.”
Talking about living with his disability, Guy said: “With disability people feel awkward about it, but I think you don’t know what something is like until you’ve lived with it and for me it doesn’t really change anything in my life. The things I’ve been lucky enough to do there’s always been an element of you’ve got to try and enjoy this because there are those people out there who won’t be able to. Life has to move forward.”