Tales from Tokyo: side-saddle rider Barbara Minneci – ‘this would have been the most beautiful Games ever’

  • Double European bronze medal-winning side-saddle rider Barbara Minneci caught the eye of many watching the Tokyo Paralympics for her elegant performances.

    The Belgian rider, who scored two top-10 individual placings at London 2012 and also competed at Rio 2016, made her mark in Tokyo with two +70% scores and a place in the freestyle aboard the chestnut gelding Stuart.

    “I’m really pleased with the horse,” said Barbara, speaking after her grade III individual test on Friday (27 August), where she finished sixth on a score of 70.83% and bagged a place in the freestyle.

    “He was supporting me and he is really good with the warm [conditions], which makes it easy for me because he’s forward and willing.

    “I had some mistakes but really my mistakes. He was really with me. It was a pleasure to ride him in this beautiful arena, I was so happy.

    “The highlight was when I went in and felt that my horse was with me. I just knew [then] that it would be a nice test and then I was just enjoying and trying to breathe. The whole test for me was really enjoyable.”

    She adds: “It really is a wonderful arena and the organisation is great. I’m really happy to be here in Japan, and I’m really sorry for Japan that we have this Covid situation, because I think it would have been the most beautiful Games ever.”

    Cancer resulted in the paralysis of Barbara’s left leg and muscle loss in her right some 20 years ago, and riding side-saddle enabled her to get back on a horse.

    Barbara sourced “Stewie” (Sir Donnerhall x Diamond Hit) in Germany as an eight-year-old, with his forward going nature and solid foundation of classical training exactly what she was looking for.

    “When I first got him, he was a little bit spooky because he did not have so much competition experience,” she said.

    “When I went to my first competition in Gothenburg with him I didn’t get to the end of the arena! And here he is now, bringing me everywhere.”

    The pair scored 72.27% in the team test on Saturday (28 August), to set Belgium off to a strong start with the last two team members still to ride tonight (Sunday, 29 August).

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