Tales from Tryon: ‘I had lost my legs but they lifted me back on board my horse’

For Brazil’s Rodolpho Riskalla, winning an individual grade IV silver medal with Don Henrico at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon is the euphoric culmination of years spent adjusting to a new life. In 2015, as a 31-year-old grand prix dressage rider with the Rio Olympics in his sights, Rodolpho relocated to Paris hoping that training and competing in Europe would boost his chances of competing at a home Olympics. But in August that year, he returned home to Sau Paulo to be with his family after his father died, and while there contracted bacterial meningitis.

He spent a month in a coma, lost his right hand and some fingers from his left, and had both legs amputated below the knee.

“Life changed for everyone, but the first thing I asked the doctor when I woke up was whether I would be able to ride,” Rodolpho told H&H. “It was actually when I went to visit my grand prix horse for the first time since my illness, before I had prosthetics and was still in a wheelchair, and his owner asked when I would be able to ride. I joked and said, ‘How about now?’, but then they lifted me on board, and that was such a great feeling.”

Despite having to adapt everything about his riding, Rodolpho returned to France and immediately switched his focus to para dressage. Incredibly, he achieved his dream of riding in Rio just eight months later, at the Paralympics. There, he finished 10th individually with the horse he describes as “my best buddy ever”, the Weltmeyer gelding Warenne.

He’d had a taste of the world stage and, with Warenne retired after Rio, Rodolpho needed a new horse. Enter the stunning chestnut Don Frederico stallion, Don Henrico (pictured, above), offered to Rodolpho by the German Olympic gold medallist, Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff.

“Henrico is a really sensitive stallion, but I’ve had him for a year now and I really know him,” said Rodolpho, who works for Dior in Paris alongside his riding, and also now competes the 15-year-old Henrico in able-bodied dressage at international small tour.

This medal means everything, after all the years of work,” said Rodolpho, who couldn’t hold back the tears when he realised his 73.37% was enough for the silver medal. “It shows that you never know what can happen in life, but that good things can always come out of the bad.”

The full report on the para dressage from WEG will be in next week’s Horse & Hound magazine, out Thursday 27 September, including exclusive analysis and expert opinion