H&H meets the inspirational para dressage rider Victoria Davies, to find out how she copes with her disability to achieve her goals in the saddle
Victoria Davies is an Australian FEI Grade II Para Rider (as of 2016 Grade Ib) and ambassador of the PRE Andalusian and Lusitano breed.
When did you start riding?
“I was just a toddler when I begun riding competitively in lead line [lead rope] classes. By the age of four I was riding my newly broken-in Welsh pony around by myself, jumping off his back, bolting up the paddock to see how fast we could go — I was a fearless and confident rider.
“My mother was a successful rider and a few years after I was born my parents begun breeding PRE Spanish horses so horses were always going to be part of my life.
“From a young age I’ve always had a strong desire to compete, and over the years this drive saw me win numerous state and national titles.
“Whilst my mum was a very good teacher, I used to love being left alone to train my pony and work things out by myself and to this day nothing has changed — I’ve never owned a ‘ready made’ horse apart for my Lusitano stallion Celere. I’ve always started horses, usually stallions from fresh, doing the ground work, mouthing and training up to the higher levels.
“After only seven months under saddle my PRE stallion Andaluka Elegido went on to be selected for the Australian Para Equestrian High Performance Squad and has since been National Champion, four times State Champion plus numerous other titles in both the open and para classes.
“Despite the awards and titles, training my horses and watching them grow and be successful, happy horses is what I love most of all.”
What is your disability?
“At nine years old I contracted a virus and was left fighting for my life; by age 12 I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Juvenile Rheumatoid and later in my teens re-diagnosed with negative Rheumatoid factor with onset Juvenile — only 20% of patients around the world are diagnosed with negative factor.
“To date I’ve had 41 operations — which include two total hip replacements and triple foot fusions. I have many operations on the ‘back burner’. When I say ‘back burner’ I mean surgeons have said I ‘need’ these operations however, I have decided to wait until I can no longer stand the pain before the procedure, as operations interfere with living (riding my horses).
“In the near future I will have to undergo high-risk neck surgery, shoulder replacement, fusions to my lower spine, right and left foot/ankle fusions and when my hips wear out they will need replacing once again.
“Unfortunately my body continues to destroy itself, by attacking healthy cells, organs and joints. Most, if not all my joints are bone on bone, which causes fractures and dislocations and my lungs are scarred from numerous infections.
“Over the years I’ve watched my once ‘normal’ body become progressively deformed and there’s always new dramas to overcome. I’ve had my fair share of aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy and even something like a common cold can be life threatening.”
How do you cope with this?
“I live life, I set goals and I concur those goals and I keep pushing. Life is a very precious gift and despite the pain and heartache this disease brings, I feel very fortunate for the life I have.
“I have a beautiful property filled with talented horses, a loving partner that understands me and parents that taught me how to fight and prepare myself for this life for whatever it may throw at me.
“Over the past month I have began my biggest battle to date and I’ve realised I’m not indestructible — this was a big shock as I’m a stubborn fighter.
“After weeks of tingling/electric shocks in my limbs and just not feeling right I was told I was having neurological symptoms and scans showed my spine migrating into my skull towards my brain with the C1 and C2 vertebra bone on bone.
“This news, for the first time in my life, made me feel vulnerable and I was filled with fear. I require high-risk surgery to stabilise my spine and to stop spinal cord damage. After four years of hard training, travelling overseas and just days away from leaving for the European Paralympic qualifiers I had to make the heartbreaking decision to withdraw from the Paralympic effort — I was on the Australian Paralympic Equestrian Shadow Squad.
“I was so close. I had a cry when I put my team uniform away and I closed that chapter in life but proud that I had achieved so much on a PRE stallion I had trained myself — my best friend.”
What are your goals/ambitions?
“Over the past month a lot has changed — there’s been a lot of soul searching and new goals set. I have been given the OK by neurosurgeons that I can ride (knowing the risks) up until my surgery so in true form I’ve shaken off my fear, and got back in the saddle where I belong. I’ve thrown myself into training and decided to compete open medium level in two weeks’ time and work towards PSG.
“My beautiful Lusitano stallion Celere who I was preparing for the European qualifiers has been based in Europe for over two years now and is currently in training with Martin and Libby Greet — it took years to find the right trainer for Celere and I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity, professionalism and friendship of the Greets who have encouraged me to bring my boy back to Australia to enjoy him! So that’s what I plan to do in the upcoming weeks — I can’t wait to walk out each morning and see my golden boy.
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“I have my two PRE Spanish stallions and two PRE Spanish mares so now that I won’t be travelling and competing overseas I’m looking forward to doing some breeding this season.
“My life for the past four years was solely about chasing the Rio dream and I’ve been visualizing myself in a huge stadium wearing the Australian flag. Now I’ve realised whilst I’m a talented rider, I don’t need to prove it on the world stage.
“Just getting in the saddle each day brings a smile to my face, keeps me sane, and gives me freedom. It’s a blessing as I never know when it will be my last ride.”