The past few weeks have flown by since returning from the Para Dressage European Championships. I’m still on a massive high and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experience with my family, friends, and sponsors/ supporters. At the end of the day it’s a huge team effort to get to this point and it’s an honour and a privilege to have such an unbelievable support network surrounding me.

The lead up

The past couple of weeks leading up to Abira setting off on his journey were nerve-wracking, I just wanted to wrap him in cotton wool, and put him in a padded cell. To add to this I also felt I had to do the same to LJT Enggaard’s Solitaire (aka Sid), as my reserve horse.

Thanks to my generous sponsors I had plenty of new items for Abira to go out with. I thoroughly enjoy the packing process, which is probably a little strange, but I am slightly OCD and love to get everything in order and organised. I think Emily might have been despairing with me at times!

Emily and Abira

The packing process didn’t come without its problems. Bathing my scooter ended in not only a water fight, but also a scooter that didn’t make it out of the wash box. I think it’s safe to say we took the bathing too far! Duly noted for next time.

The horses got to Arrow RDA centre on Sunday 13 August and were inspected by our team vet (Rod Fisher) and team osteopath (Karen Robertson) on the Monday to assess if they were fit to travel. They also had their saddles checked by Mark Fisher and the team farrier, Ian Hughes, made sure he was happy with their feet.

It was hugely disappointing for my fellow team mate Natasha Atkinson, as her gorgeous mare Cally wasn’t quite right. This is a position nobody ever wants to be in, but the horses’ welfare has to be at the forefront of any decision and she’ll be back out soon. Her slot was filled by the ever cheerful Erin Orford and Dior — massive moment for Erin, as another championship debutante.

Tiggy, Liz, Karen, and Rod made the trip out with the horses to Gothenburg. This took them four days, with ample amounts of time for the horses to rest en-route and arrive in top condition.

Emily (with her Kalms tablets at the ready for the flight), the rest of the team, the support staff and I flew out on the Thursday, meaning we arrived a day ahead of the horses, allowing us time to set up and decorate the stables (there was certainly no question of what country we were from!).

Pre-competition

Not long after we got off the plane in Gothenburg, I realised that this was going to be an experience like no other. The cars that picked us up from the airport had the ‘Longine FEI Europeans’ logo on both sides and there was a real buzz and positive energy surrounding the competition.

The venue itself was in the heart of Gothenburg. The stables were located in a public car park and the para competition arena was on top of an astroturf pitch (perhaps that’s why Abira was so bouncy!).

The first couple of days we settled in and got ourselves familiarised with the environment, and the lethal tram lines, on which I nearly ended up face planting out of my wheelchair (not such a great start)! However, Erin and I decided we needed to expend some energy and managed to locate an amazing 50m swimming pool. Maybe Erin and I should invent a new para sport — a sort of duathlon with riding and swimming!

Reunited

I’ve never been so relieved to see Abira arrive safe and sound after the four-day trip. Not only that, but all the horses had travelled really well and looked fantastic, thanks to the meticulous care that went into them on the way over.

Emily and Abira

It was straight into light schooling the day after they arrived and after they had trotted up for the vet inspection. It was slightly unusual to have a day in between the trot-up and our first test on Monday.

Abira showed no sign of being tired on the first and second day of training. He was bouncing off the walls and certainly decided that this was his sort of party, especially when he got to do the arena familiarisation. His ears were firmly pricked and he was a real show off!

Continued below…

In between training was spent either having physio (with team physio Lucy Bell) or chilling at the stables and I confess that a lot of the time was spent watching the eventing Europeans on TV with Tiggy! It’s actually surprising how much the whole atmosphere takes it out of you. Then it was time to compete…
Suz