As troubled Paul Gascoigne returns from taking equine therapy in a US clinic, a recovered drug addict from Bournemouth tells Juliette Astrup about the horse that saved her life
Chatting to Stephanie Weyell as she sips orange barley water in the comfortable surroundings of her Queens Park family home it is hard to imagine she has been though the nightmare of drug addiction.
Yet, in a soft voice, she recounts a time in her life when she went to hell and back in the grip of an addiction which threatened to destroy her.
The pretty 34-year-old smoked pot for the first time at the tender age of 11 – and by the age of 16 she had tried everything, from amphetamines to cocaine and even heroin.
She warns: “It can happen to anyone. I just never thought that I would get addicted. It started off by going clubbing every week and it just went on from there. Once you smoke pot you think well, that’s ok – then you go on to the next stage, then the next stage, and then the next one. And the people around you make it all seem acceptable. It was so normal – I just got swept along in the current of this drugs sub-culture.”
Stephanie went through two stints in rehab – including alongside singer Robbie Williams when she was 18 – but returned to drugs both times. Remarkably, despite the intensity of her addiction, she managed to pass nine GCSEs and gain a BTEC qualification at college. Following that she was even holding down a smart office job, going to score drugs in her lunch hour dressed in a suit.
But finally, aged 21, she hit rock bottom and she realised that she had come to a crossroads from which there was no turning back. “It had got to the stage where, to continue taking drugs, I was going to have to say goodbye to my family and go into this life of destruction and do some really dark stuff,” she said. “The only other way was to come off drugs and put it behind me once and for all.”
Finally she had the strength to do it – using two weeks away in Australia for a family wedding to cut herself off from drugs and go through detox alone in a hotel room. Physically she was clean – but she was by no means cured. It wasn’t until a move to Marbella in Spain with her then boyfriend shortly afterwards that the healing process truly began.
Working as a groom she came across Campero – a famous ‘dancing horse’ from one of the most prestigious bloodlines in Spain – who had been left lame and neglected in a stable for years, scarcely seeing daylight. The moment she saw his “sad eyes” she said she fell in love straight away, finding she could “relate to something” in them.
“I was drug-free – but emotionally I was lost,” she said. “Here was this horse who needed me – I just couldn’t let him down. He brought me back to myself.”
Gradually over months and years she tended to him, every day doing a bit more – leading him to the shower to cool off, taking him to graze, bringing him bags of carrots.
“Eventually he got so much better that he looked, and acted, like the stallion he used to be,” she added. “He was a magnificent creature and what we had both come through together made me proud of both of us. I remembering whispering in his ear, “one day, we will go from this stable and I will put you into a big field in England, I promise you that.”
Eight years later Stephanie did just that bringing Campero, and his son Cirius Nevado, back to the UK. Tragically a riding accident involving barbed wire on New Year’s Day two years ago left Campero so badly injured he had to be put down.
But, as Stephanie says, his legacy lives on, in his son Cirius Nevado. Already having experienced the healing power of animals herself, and helped other addicts during her years in Spain through contact with her horses, Stephanie is keen for that process to continue.
She is about to start volunteering with charity Caring Canines, taking dogs into rehab centres to help recovering addicts, and she hopes to use Cirius in the same way in the future.
It is something about which she is truly passionate.
“My approach to addiction is to try and take people out of past or future, and into the moment. The only thing we have control over is now. The horses definitely help with that,” she added.
“When you are grooming a horse’s mane and get wrapped up in that moment, it can be magical. You do not need to think about anything else. To a horsey person who is used to moving half a ton of horse over to the left or the right, it is no big deal.
"But take a child or adult who has been bullied or abused and has had all control taken from their life, to actually work together with a horse is a powerful moment and something that can make an immediate change to a person’s confidence and whole future. I know that for a fact because I have seen the transformation in others.
She added with a smile: “I can honestly say that Campero saved my life, and Cirius Nevado continues to keep my feet firmly on the ground.”