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The opportunity to compete a former grand prix horse has helped put Laura Gulliver on the map as a para rider, and with an exciting young horse waiting in the wings, the 25-year-old has her sights firmly set on the Paris 2024 Paralympics.
Laura was working as an apprentice for Judy Harvey aged 16 when she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
“I’m now self-employed and went down the riding and teaching route rather than working full-time on a yard,” explained Laura. “Judy and Clive Milkins both encouraged me to get classified for para dressage – at the time I didn’t have any idea about para or whether I could do it.
“I ride with looped reins as I struggle with my hands and wrists – I found dropping the reins halfway through a test wasn’t very helpful! I also ride with two whips as I don’t have much strength and range in my legs,” explains Laura, a grade IV rider, who still trains with Judy. “I struggle a lot with fatigue, as well as the pain and difficulty with my joints, so it’s always a balancing act trying not to overdo it, especially in the build-up to a show.
“I focus on giving the horses short bursts on good quality work. I ride them every day, so they’re used to me on my good days and my bad days.”
Laura took up para dressage in 2013, making her international debut in 2014 with Egegardens Dior and later Woodcroft Natalia. And then a very exciting opportunity arose.
“I worked at Lesley Peyton-Gilbert’s yard and looked after Woodcroft Garuda K while he was competing at international grand prix with her. A few years later I bumped into his owners at the nationals and they said he was stepping down from grand prix and wondered if anyone would like him as a schoolmaster. I said, ‘Do you think he would the para job?’”
Now 19, the Trakehner stallion is based with Laura and the pair have had great success together, securing top international placings and being crowned grade IV national champions in 2019. They were also reserve national winter champions in February this year.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, Laura spent months shielding by living in a tent due to her vulnerability to Covid-19.
“I had to be really careful and it was tough not knowing when it would be over,” she says. “Luckily I rent a private yard and could keep riding, which gave me something to focus on.”
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A summer of training paid off when Laura won at the summer’s British Dressage Festival of Para Dressage, before scoring a trio of second places at Keysoe CPEDI in October. Now she is excited about spending the winter bringing on the eight-year-old Trakehner gelding Farok V. Singing (pictured above), who is owned by Joanna Alderton-Whitworth.
“He came to me in August and is a very blank canvas. We’re about to make our BD debut, and he needs to get out and about for some exposure,” says Laura. “I feel as though I’m a rider who is currently slightly in the shadows, but we’re working away behind the scenes, and I’m aiming for Paris 2024 with him.”
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