‘Whirlwind spell’ for para rider making championship debut just months after giving birth

  • Not content with making her championship debut at the European Para Dressage Championships, Ireland’s Sarah Slattery managed to do so just five months after giving birth. She was riding Savona, a San Amour I x Expose 5 mare, who competed briefly at prix st georges level for Finland back in 2018.

    Sarah is a grade V rider and while she didn’t trouble the leaders with 66.39% in her first test – after making an impromptu flying change in the counter canter – she’s on a steep learning curve. Sarah is fairly new to para dressage, having started competing internationally in 2021, and this horse is a new ride since the birth of her second child.

    “We’ve only been together three and a half months,” Sarah, 33, explains. “I didn’t even try her as I was seven months pregnant, so my mum and aunt went to see her. Then she arrived, I had the baby, and five weeks later I was out on her.

    “It’s been a whirlwind, but I didn’t have any complications, so that made it easier to get back in the saddle. I tried to stay fit but in the last few months it’s difficult, so the minute I had my baby, I was walking, walking, walking. And we took it easy when I first got on her, no mad stuff. We started in walk and trot, while I built up my core.

    “Savona is a proper queen; she wants it her way or no way – when she finished her test here, she was going back to the stables and said, ‘Don’t even try to stop me!’” Sarah says of the 15-year-old mare.

    “This is only our third international and the bond will build and we’ll get more gelled. At the moment, we’re a new partnership and I’m new to para, but she’s quite forgiving of my mistakes. She’ll say, ‘Sarah, that was wrong you know? But I’m going to forgive you and we’ll move on. But I might remember it.’ She’s definitely a queen, but a very loving and forgiving queen.”

    European Para Dressage Championships: Sarah Slattery’s story

    Sarah has been riding from a young age – her father Tom Slattery is a five-time national showjumping champion who has won multiple Nations Cups and grands prix for Ireland. However, at the age of eight Sarah developed a cancerous tumour in her left arm, which had to be removed.

    “They had to remove a lot of the muscles and tendons and ligaments in the arm, but thankfully I had a very good doctor, because it was 50/50 whether I would lose the arm when I went into surgery,” she says.

    “Amazingly, he was able to replace the tendons and ligaments that he took out of the arm with tendons and ligaments from my legs. Because of that, my bicep is very short, so I don’t have a lot of strength in it. I can’t make a full fist and I can’t straighten out my fingers. So I use looped reins, ride with my legs and hope for the best.”

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