Suzanna Hext’s road to recovery blog: gold rush — it’s been a hard journey at times, and these moments are ones to treasure

  • When I arrived at the Para Dressage European Championships I felt like I had loads of time before the big competition day commenced — it turns out it came round in a flash.

    Without doubt, the place I feel my happiest is in the saddle, and in particular on a horse like Abira, who will without fail always give his all. This feeling helps on competition day, as I find I can drift off into my own ‘zone’ on him, where it’s just Abira and I and the test ahead of us. I love what I do and I have a particularly special partnership with Abira. I will never be able to thank Pammy and Charlie Hutton enough for allowing me to ride him, he’s a horse of a lifetime.

    On the first day I had my individual test. Abira went through the archway and grew a hand. I have honestly never felt that amount of power underneath me! Part of me was thinking, ‘wow’ and the other part of me was thinking ‘I need to be able to contain this in the arena’!

    I went up the first centre line wondering if we were actually going to be able to halt at X! He was on great form and other than making a frustrating couple of errors in our double marked serpentines he did a solid test, and I couldn’t have been any prouder of him.

    Seeing my name at the top of the leaderboard was a huge shock and evoked whole wave of emotions. Just to get selected for the Europeans was one thing, but to win an individual gold medal on the first day was something I never would have expected.

    Each day it was a case of making myself re-focus rather than getting too over excited and letting this knock on to my performance the next day. Every evening I went through my ‘pre-performance routine’ with my sport psychologist Jennie Killilea on the phone. Then the morning of the test I ran through my test with Anne Dunham on the phone, talking through what I would be focusing on ahead of and within each movement.

    You never quite know how a horse is going to come out of the stable each day, it’s a case of adapting to how they feel. I was lucky enough that Abira came out on flying form each day. Slightly too much at times.

    On day two, which was the team test, there was certainly an element of added pressure to maintain our unbeaten record. Although, I know that I can only do what I can in my test and if I’ve done my best I can’t ask for any more. Abira was phenomenal springing around the arena and adding to our team score to win team gold.

    The prize-giving for the first and second day was held after the final test on the second day. Mum and dad managed to delay their flights to make sure they didn’t miss it! The moment the national anthem was being played I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a spine-tingling feeling and my cheeks certainly hurt afterwards from smiling so much. It’s been a hard journey at times, and these moments are ones to treasure. My parents had their tissues out and it was very special to have them out in Gothenburg supporting me.

    With my parents

    It was then time on day three for Abira to get his dancing shoes on, which is a favourite part for both of us. Abira loves showing off! A clean test for 76%+ to my new music put together by Julie Geraghty to win another individual gold medal was just insane. I feel extremely honoured to compete such a tremendous horse.

    Each day he came out looking a picture, gleaming from head to toe, with stunning plaits. Groom Emily Reid did a phenomenal job.

    Just when I thought I could go and relax, I was picked for dope testing, something I’ve never experienced before. As soon as you’ve been picked for doping you have a chaperone who will not leave your side. I was allowed to go through the mixed zone (where all the media is), however, she had to be my shadow until I got up into the room for the dope testing process to begin. It’s safe to say you can leave your dignity at the door! Four bottles of water later for the 90ml sample I had to provide (which I can tell you is quite a lot!) and I was set free.

    On the final evening we made the trip over to the Ullevi stadium to watch Carl Hester compete. The atmosphere was ramped up another notch again. It was great to be able to feel a part of it, especially as it was a mixed Europeans with dressage and showjumping.

    Celebrating with my team mates

    The flight back ran smoothly and we soon landed in sunny England. It was great to get a shout out on the plane about our success.

    I can’t thank everyone enough for all their help and support. The whole Lottery Funded World Class support team at home and away go above and beyond to help us succeed. Tiggy and Emily were incredible support during the whole week, although, I think Tiggy was excited at the prospect of not having to be responsible for me any more.

    Since the Europeans

    It’s been a whirlwind since we returned. I have to say I could have relived the whole week again and again, although I think my body might have had a slight objection to this.

    I’ve had my first experience of being interviewed in a studio live for BBC Spotlight, which I thoroughly enjoyed, a live interview for BBC Radio Cornwall, a celebratory party at home in Cornwall, swimming in the sea and I had my first appearance on the front cover of Horse & Hound, which has always been a childhood dream.

    More recently we had our medallist parade as a team at the national dressage championships in an open top Audi. This was a huge honour and a pretty surreal experience for me.

    To come…

    Over the coming months I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Winter qualifiers with both horses, strength and conditioning in Bath, squad training, swimming, awards dinners and a medallist parade at Olympia, which I am extremely excited about.

    Open top car parade

    We are also looking for the next future up and coming star with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in mind. We would like a seven- or eight-year-old, up to 16.2hh, and it must have a fantastic walk and trot, good temperament and serious ‘look at me presence’. Please contact me via email if you know of anything (suzannahext@hotmail.co.uk).

    Continued below…

    One quote that I think nicely sums up the teamwork that goes into helping us as athletes to achieve our optimum performance is:

    “Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean”

    Thank you to everyone for following my journey and supporting me along the way
    Suz xx

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