Ride of my life: Anne Dunham

  • Anne Dunham recalls her ride at 1999 World Dressage Championships

    I became faciniated by dressage several years after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and began competing internationally against other disabled riders at the 1994 Hartpury World Dressage Championships, where I won individual gold and team silver.

    Five yearslater, I headed for the World Championships at Vilhelmsborg in Denmark, where I found myself drawn with a 16hh Danish-bred chesnut mare called Rhona.Although she was only a riding school horse, I liked the look of her, as I could see that she had a decent topline, which would make her easier for me to ride.

    The first time I rode her she proved uptight and nervy. Rhona was particularly apprehensive when I took her into the huge and highly-charged indoor school where the competition was to take place. It was clear that she wasn’t used to a competition atmosphere and things didn’t bode well. However, I persevered with her and on the final day of practice she began to relax and settle.

    During the warm-up test on the first of the three days of competition, we finished fourth overall. I was pleased that Rhona had listened to my aids (I can make only small movements through my body and hands) and that she hadn’t been too freaked by the atmosphere in the main arena.

    We finished fourth overall in the following day’s individual championship, when Rhona went even better than before.

    But the best was yet to come and Rhona really did give me the ride of my life during the freestyle to music. Of course, I had worked out my music and floor plan at home, but when you ride a borrowed horse you never quite know if things will go according to plan.

    From the moment I trotted Rhona down the centre line, though, I knew that it was going to go well as she was so relaxed and had so much more lift than before. I smiled throughout the entire test and so, I’m sure, did Rhona.

    Her walk (to Hey Jude) went well, her working trot (to When I’m 64) had more bounce and rhythm to it than ever before and she literally floated across the arena. Her circles were truly round, accurate and rhythmic, and during the serpentine she kept a good rhythm through the bend. Her extended trot was good and in the final halt she stopped four-square. All in all, I felt as though I was riding a well-oiled machine and our 4«min went in a flash.

    I felt elated at the end when I realised that, for the first time in my career, I had broken the 80% barrier, and I found it very moving to collect my individual and team gold medals and hear the National Anthem played.

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (6 February) where Nicole Uphoff talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ with Rembrandt.

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