NAME: Victoria Davies (Koch)

AGE: 36

RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married to Michael Koch

RIDING AGE: I began riding in competitions at age 3.

DISABILITY/ILLNESS: Juvenile Rheumatoid with negative Rheumatoid factor and later in teens re-diagnosed, negative Rheumatoid factor with onset Juvenile- Only 20% of patients around the world are diagnosed with negative factor.

Rheumatoid is the main factor to my disability; 42 operations to date, scared lungs, Scoliosis, bilateral total hip replacements, triple Arthrodesis and I am highly immune suppressed.

As of January 2016 my health has declined due to aggressive deterioration of my spine and neck; I have been diagnosed with Basilar Invagination which in simple terms means my C1 and C2 vertebrates are bone on bone and the Odontoid peg (part of my spine) has migrated into my skull towards my brain and placing my spinal cord at high risk. This was detected by scans April 2016 as I begun to suffer from many neurological symptoms. With our without the surgery - both options are high risk neck and potentially life threatening. Currently we are still investigating further options.

February 2017 update: My neck is stable and the spinal cord is 'safe' for now however, my brain stem is compressed and my skull is quite crowded; this causes huge amounts of pressure, migraines and neurological symptoms but I am coping for the moment and still riding! Scans also detected new deterioration of the C6 and C7 vertebrates which is pushing towards my spinal cord. Further monitoring is needed to reduce risk of spinal cord compression.

PARA-CLASSIFICATION: I have been FEI Grade II since November 2016.

COACH: Jim Collin

GOALS: It has always been a goal to compete at the Paralympics and come home with a medal, however... life is short! each day I wake up and I'm able to jump in the saddle... it's a goal to be cherished.


If you’d asked me 7 months ago what the next chapter in my life was I would have said ‘riding at the Rio Paralympics’; I was on the Australian Shadow Squad and all I had to do was get on the plane the following week and attend 2 European qualifiers. Now life has a very unique way of showing you to slow down. If any of you follow me on Facebook you would know I withdrew from the European Paralympic qualifiers due to health, not due to a sore throat or a broken leg but for a potentially fatal condition.

When I came back from a training trip overseas I experienced tingling and electric shock sensations in my limbs and I was losing my balance, I was in no state to fly let alone ride a horse. I had an MRI and the discovery was devastating – in simple non-medical terms, my spine is migrating into my skull towards my brain, with concerns of the spinal cord being compromised. This has been caused from years of destruction from the Rheumatoid. Being told this news it was a blur just like in the movies but I heard the words ‘you can’t ride’ clear as day. For the first time since I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid at age 9 and after multiple joint replacements, this cruel disease had finally won and I had no choices as I sat there whilst a Neurosurgeon told me 2 outcomes – death or quadriplegia; I did stop fighting but with an amazing partner, strong family and coach that would not let me give up and let me be swallowed up by fear - I got it together and I fought. 

Being only 32 years old with this condition, it’s quite rare; 3 of Australia’s leading Neurosurgeons replied to my emails of help within hours and had me in their rooms for consults, after 4 months of further scans and tests it came to the conclusion that high risk surgery is not needed at the moment as it appears by miracle my body has naturally fused the C1 and C2 vertebra’s and the neck is stable with very minimal chance of migration happening quickly. Reality is no one has a crystal ball, it truly is a gamble; I have to monitor my symptoms and have 6-12 monthly MRI scans to monitor the situation.

Do I ride? YES! I rode 2 weeks after my diagnosis, with the OK from Neurosurgeons; of course I was told about the risks but as they’ve operated on many athletes in the past they know how important an athletes sport is to their mental health and trust me, I was going crazy in those 2 weeks of not riding as riding has always been my outlet. At the same time getting back in the saddle was hard – being such a ‘gutsy’ confident rider to sitting on my faithful stallion Andaluka Elegido, frozen and being crippled by ‘what ifs’ – it was sad. For a week I just walked until I told myself this was ‘completely stupid’ … I pushed Eddy into a full on gallop around the arena and let the fear leave me! Life is for living, not being wrapped in bubble wrap consumed by fear!!

With Rio out of my sight and with this news my partner Michael gave me one of the most beautiful gifts – he organised for my Lusitano stallion ‘Celere’ to come home to Australia, which would be the closure of the Rio campaign journey.  I purchased Celere in Portugal March 2014 and he stayed in Europe as I was to do the Rio qualifiers with him, I spent 2.5 years traveling back and forth for training and we created such a special bond; the thought of selling him was not an option – he had to come home and that he did, arriving August 2016!  I can’t express the peace and joy Celere has given. 

For years I put Rio as my number one priority, putting off breeding due to no time as I was either here or in Europe competing and training so this season I made my dreams a reality and bought 2 Lusitano mares to put in foal to Celere – an import and an Australian bred from imported parents; I didn’t stop there and as we speak I have 2 of my PRE mares being inseminated – Andaluka Diva to Donoso VII (Frozen Semen) and Willtony Shakira to my very own Hanna Poderoso. I have spent years promoting the breeds and my stallions at the highest level and I know they will pass on their amazing temperaments, intelligence and versatility. It’s been years in the making but the wait has been worth it.

As for my riding career I’ve struggled with my new symptoms and my 3 stallions are also getting used to them but it really doesn’t show. In September I went to the NSW State Dressage Championships with my 11yo PRE Stallion Andaluka Elegido ‘Eddy’ and took home State Champion FEI Grade Ib for the 4th consecutive year in our grade, we also achieved personal best scores of over 72% and a massive 84% from one judge - world class scores. We followed on this success at the prestigious Australian Dressage Nationals in October where I campaigned both stallions – Andaluka Elegido and my ‘nearly’ 6yo stallion Hanna Poderoso ‘Sam’, a gorgeous young stallion that I have raised myself since he arrived from NZ as a 6 month old, an intelligent stallion with a super work ethic who I have trained together with my long standing coach Jim Collin. This was Sam’s first time competing at FEI Para Equestrian level and he was amazing, receiving great scores up to 68% and comments of being a promising star for the future. Both stallions were a perfect example of the breed, carefully taking me around the arena in such a professional manner.

Andaluka Elegido went above and beyond scoring in the 70s taking home Australian National Champion FEI Para Equestrian Grade Ib and the ‘rookie’ Hanna Poderoso came home with Australian National Reserve Champion FEI Para Equestrian Grade Ib. So proud of my Spanish boys!

With WEG qualifiers beginning late 2017, the competitive nature burning inside of me says ‘go for it’ but I’m just going with the flow. To be in the saddle is such a blessing and something I will never take for granted. I have 3 very special stallions in my life that think the world of me and 4 amazing mares making my dreams come true so what will be will be.


When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid at age 9 I was too young to truly understand the long term affects of this disease; as the years went by I tackled each challenge and operation head on. I showed no fear and I taught myself to mentally block out pain. My strength was created by not letting the disease 'win'. 42 operations and procedures, chemotherapy treatment, steroids, trials, joint replacements, fusions, biologicals, injections... I've had it all.

The disease has no cure. The disease is very cruel, it's disabling and yes it can be terminal. It’s not so much the disease itself but more the secondary issues - the infections, organ failure, side effects of medication, mental health or as we discovered in 2016 it can just shut down a body at anytime in its destruction.

July 2016 was the beginning of my new outlook on this disease and life. When I was diagnosed with my spine migrating into my skull (Basilar Invagination), crushing my brain stem and millimetres from hitting my brain and my vertebrae’s moving towards my spinal cord at a high risk rate - a part of me felt robbed. I felt that was it, I had no choices. My 23-year battle keeping up with the disease... It had won! I was faced with very difficult decisions - to have a high risk operation that could potentially end my life or leave me a complete quadriplegic... or continue life and face those same chances... or maybe by some miracle nothing may never happen. I opted to have no surgery. I rather live each day at home with my husband, my animals and enjoying my freedom of riding. The past 2 years since my diagnosis I have lived, I've proved many people and surgeons wrong... But it's not about proving a point, it's about never quitting. I continue to ride my horses each day, successfully compete, I continue to be a wife, a daughter... an athlete. I never once regret my decision.

The past 2 weeks, I've had more odd symptoms and have undergone a number of neck, brain and head MRI scans. I have to say these yearly MRI scans create much anxiety. I annoy my neurosurgeon receptionists for days anxiously waiting for my results... Is my brain OK, why’s this foot tingling, what about my spinal cord is it OK, why am I getting pressure behind my eye, I’m still riding… should I be riding, do I need to stop… hurry up and give me answers.

That right there is the worst feeling out of everything. In recent days I've also seen my foot surgeon, who I've known for 10 years. The most arrogant but amazing surgeon I've ever known! in 2007 he fused 3 joints in my left foot when no other surgeon in the country would operate on me. The look on his face yesterday just read ‘stressed’; instantly I knew the news I was to receive would be terrible.

Many years of Rheumatoid damage has left the foot and ankle bone on bone. To manage the pain of my joints grinding and cracking together I require 8 joint fusions which is the most ever done in one foot by this surgeon; if I go ahead with the surgery there is very high chance the fusions may not all fuse and if they do and the operation is successful I will have no feeling or movement - I won't even be able to walk.

The risk of infection for myself is very high at 70% or more, a healthy person has a 2% risk; If the joints do not fuse then I lose the leg. The operation is also higher risk due to my neck condition, as it’s roughly an 12hr operation which places my neck in a difficult position for the breathing tube. I was told to highly consider amputation from knee down - a choice only I can make; However, physically I would have more movement and learn to walk with a prosthesis. My surgeon said, if I can keep going with the pain than that would be the best option. If we are lucky my body may naturally fuse the joints. We can only hope for a miracle.

For now I will go without the surgery on my foot as well and as much as it kills me inside, we will be organising a wheelchair to be made. Something I hopefully wont need to use everyday but is there so I keep my independence! As long as I can ride, I don't mind not walking!

I share my updates not out of self-pity. I'm sharing my stories to educate others of the true affects of Rheumatoid and to highlight an 'invisible disability'. A person that may look fine on the outside can certainly hold a very different story in the inside… and disguise the struggles behind close doors very well.

I must emphasize I am somewhat a rare case. My Rheumatoid is very aggressive; No one knows why. It's just the cards that have been dealt. One positive if we look at it - I have educated professors of the disease... no matter the age, Rheumatoid can destroy! Side effects from Rheumatoid relating to the neck should never be 'assumed' to only happen in 80 year olds ...

Rheumatoid is so often seen as ‘just arthritis’, which creates so much misleading information to the general public. If there was some way I could organise to have ‘arthritis’ removed from disease reference I bloody would! ‘O it’s cold… your arthritis must be hurting… well no! the cold is brilliant for my Rheumatoid!' ...

Rheumatoid it is such a misunderstood disease. Whilst this is a horrendous disease – life doesn’t stop!!

Feel free to share my post to raise awareness
Vic x

“Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal.”
Elbert Hubbard

At the tender age of 6 years old I was riding ponies on my parents horse stud with no care in the world; at  9 years old I contracted a virus and was fighting for my life; by age 12 I had lost my ability to walk. And today? I proved many people wrong and I am an Australian High Performance Athlete on a journey of a lifetime - I’m on the road to Rio Paralympics 2016!

Rheumatoid is a disease that is often misunderstood. Whilst it has no cure, it has opened up many amazing opportunities that I have been able to relish through my determination to never give up, as well as the endless support from my fiancé Michael Koch.

The road is not easy, but we make an amazing team - I’m feisty and Michael’s calm.  He’s my best friend and soul mate; when I’m in too much pain he rubs my feet, when I dislocate a joint he laughs & helps me ‘pop’ it in – we have learnt to just go with the flow and enjoy life. We are extremely proud of the property we have created and call home with our 8 horses and 2 German Shepherd ‘kids’ Bear & Heidi.

Unfortunately my body slowly continues to destroy itself, by attacking healthy cells, organs and joints. All my joints are bone on bone, which causes fractures and daily dislocations and my lungs are scarred from numerous infections. Over the years I’ve watched my once ‘normal’ body become misshaped & progressively deformed. I’ve had my fair share of aggressive treatments and something like a common cold can be life threatening. In 2014 I was also diagnosed with a secondary illness, - Raynauds, that is activated by cold & stress and can lead to gangrene if untreated.

To date I’ve had 41 operations. After 2016 I will undergo a shoulder replacement, fusions of my lower discs to my spine and my two current hip replacements will need replacing again due to wear & tear. Both feet & ankles need further surgery too, and I do have to prepare myself that amputation may be the only outcome.

But for now I have one goal on my mind – the Paralympics. My focus of the last three years has seen me working myself up the ranks to be one of Australia’s best Grade II Para Equestrians. I was placed on the Australian High Performance futures squad and in early 2015 I was awarded a scholarship from the NSW Institute of Sport. In August last year I was the only Grade II rider selected on the Australian High Performance Green squad for recognition as a potential athlete for Rio Paralympics 2016. I also gained recognition from the Australian Paralympic Committee and Australian Institute of Sport.

I am very proud to say I’ve won endless titles at Championship, National and International level. Next year I travel to Europe to compete at the qualifier events and it will be all about the scores. These will determine my position on the Australian team that hopefully leads me to achieve my ultimate goal.