I have now not only officially mastered London, but I can say that I have conquered France too. However, this was more of a concern from a driving perspective, rather than relating to my crutches, particularly for poor Lucy Dickenson, who was my nervous passenger.
In order to obtain my International Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) classification as soon as possible, I needed to attend an international para competition to be classified. When you are assessed there has to be two physios present — in my case, a French and British classifier — so off we went to Deauville!
Pole International du Cheval Deauville
The journey and competition as a whole was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. I’m sure Lucy won’t forget the driving part especially!
The first stage of the mission was to get to Portsmouth and on to the ferry. Brittany Ferries were extremely helpful and we were parked near a lift with our cabin at the top. Lucy was fascinated by the cabins having never been in one before. With vivid dreams of driving off the ferry on the wrong side of the road, it was soon time to wake up and tackle the challenge head on.
Every time I accomplished a roundabout or a junction, I got extremely excited. Lucy was map reading to start with, but we swiftly pulled over and switched the sat nav on. After a couple of minor detours, which were put straight by the trusty sat nav, we arrived at the competition venue in Deauville.
As we travelled on the overnight ferry to Caen, we arrived just in time for breakfast — a compulsory pain au chocolat of course (something we knew how to ask for!). We were also in time to watch the first tests of the day, including Sophie Wells‘ on her impressive horses.
We swiftly met the British team contingent, prompted by the Cotsworld Equestrian written on the back of Lucy’s jacket. Everyone was extremely welcoming and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and pick their brains.
Put through my paces
It was then time for my classification. This is assessed on strength, range of movement and co-ordination. The physios certainly put you through your paces and look at every area of your body, regardless of whether that is the part affected in your disability or not. My spasms were in compete turmoil and the physios were darting around my legs!
Lucy watched my assessment and said that I looked so red that I looked like I was going to explode! I came out as a Grade Two for my FEI classification, which is the same as I was given for my national grade.
It’s onwards and upwards now as I am able to enter the open classes at the qualifying competitions and see where that takes me. Fingers crossed!
The rest of the weekend was filled with meeting lots of incredible people and watching everyone compete. I was totally blown away by the standard and the incredible atmosphere at the competition. You got a great sense of team cohesiveness and everyone rooting for each other.
The British team of Anne Dunham (pictured above), Deb Criddle, Sophie Wells and Heather Bennett won overall. It was great to watch Anne put forward such spectacular results, especially as I quite often train alongside her at Talland in my lessons with Pammy.
The trip was a huge success — I just need to brush up on my French before I go out there again. It was a long time ago that I did my GCSEs and just knowing ‘pain au chocolat’ didn’t quite cut it!
Driven for perfection
After arriving back from Deauville on Sunday night, I rode on Monday morning in preparation for Sparsholt on Tuesday. I felt even more driven for perfection having seen the seasoned para dressage riders compete.
Abira completely smashed his tests getting plus-72% in his first test and plus-74% in his second. While there was lots to improve on, they were both lovely tests. We even managed to gain a nine!
Amo was also feeling great and got plus-70% in her first test and plus-69% in her second. I was over the moon with her. They came first and second in both tests.
The coming weeks are particularly busy with competitions, both able-bodied and para. I have a competition every week for the next few weeks, which I am very excited about. I have a couple of para competitions in the open classes, and a couple of advanced mediums booked in on Amo.
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Bicton International Horse Trials
In other news, I had my first fix of eventing of the season at the weekend. I set off in the lorry with Selina Milnes for Bicton for a day of socialising and watching.
It was great to see the fantastic effort that had gone into Bicton. It’s a hugely successful event organised by Helen West and co and it’s brilliant to see a south west event holding an international class this year.
It goes without saying that watching the cross-country makes me miss eventing massively. However, I am lucky to be here today, let alone riding the most beautiful horses I could have only dreamt of riding. And I am still able to enjoy the social side of meeting up with my eventing friends who I have built up over years on the circuit.
This time last year I was going into my eighth operation. It’s got to be said that I was very low, frail and life was not looking very good. I had to wheel my wheelchair with one arm to get from a to b (well I didn’t have to, but I was stubbornly determined to not let anyone help me as much as possible).
It’s incredible how much a year can change your life.
There are various factors involved in how this has happened, including the operations and recovery, however, everyone’s belief and support has played a huge part in getting me to the point I am at now, where life is beyond unbelievable for me.
I am extremely grateful to my family and friends, Oaksey House (Mark Davies Injured Rider’s Fund in helping making this possible), work (B&W Equine Vets) and Talland for your endless support.
“Never let a stumble be the end of your journey”