Triple European para champion Suzanna Hext will now compete as a grade II rider after a ‘shock’ reclassification.

Former two-star eventer Suzanna has competed in the grade III division since taking up para dressage after she broke her back in an accident and suffered paralysis in 2012. With the Hutton family’s Abira, Suzanna won three gold medals as a grade III combination at the 2017 European Championships, but has now been reclassified into the lower grade — for athletes whose disability more severely affects their ability to ride.

“It was a shock, more so for me than for anybody else, as I didn’t feel as though I was struggling at all — I finished 2017 as world number one in grade III,” Suzanna told H&H. “I was really happy with my grade but in my heart of hearts I did know that my condition has deteriorated slightly.”

Classification assessments comprise a series of tests around coordination, strength and power, described by Suzanna as “gruelling”.

“I wasn’t overly happy with the decision at the time, but now I’ve had time to reflect on it I just can’t wait to get out competing again. This might help my body in the long run, and as long as I can still ride and do the sport I love I can’t complain — life could have been so different for me.”

‘A really exciting mare for the future’

Suzanna is looking forward to her grade II career with an exciting new ride, the Lady Joseph Trust’s Cathalina (below). The 11-year-old bay mare has competed up to medium in the Netherlands and will join Suzanna’s string for 2018, alongside the 18-year-old Abira and LJT Enggaards Solitaire (Sid).

“Abira will compete this year, and we’re aiming for the World Equestrian Games, but we had been looking for another horse to come on alongside Sid,” said Suzanna, who opted not to compete Abira at last week’s para winter championships, which would have been her final grade III competition.

“Henrietta Cheetham of the Lady Joseph Trust bought ‘Cath’ from Oaklands Dressage, after Pippa Hutton and I went to try her. I’m so grateful to Henrietta for the opportunity.”

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“Cath is tiny compared to my other two — just 16hh on tiptoes — but she has a massive trot for a small horse. It takes time to build up that partnership and it’s early days, but she is a really exciting mare for the future.”

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