Olympic eventer Jonty Evans said that, as ever, his aim is to do his horse justice, as he and Cooley Rorkes Drift turn to para dressage this month.
The partnership, who finished ninth individually at the 2016 Games, are to compete in para classes at a British Dressage show at Solihull on 30 March. Jonty told H&H his crowd-funded superstar “Art”, who is 17 this year, is in top form.
“You can’t say he’s showing any kind of age!” he said. “He’s really well. I want to be careful not to paint him as a dressage diva but he’s really quite enjoying doing more flatwork. And not just for him but for both of us, to have something to focus on, so it’s interesting.”
Jonty has evented and showjumped since the cross-country fall in 2018 in which he was seriously injured. He said the mental process involved in coming to this decision to compete in para dressage was not smooth.
“But I’ve always said that in any attempt to return to eventing, level wasn’t the biggest thing for me, doing it properly was,” he said. “And the trouble is, I’ve really struggled to do it properly, and I didn’t realise how much I missed doing something half-decently. My dressage needs a lot of work but it’s a way of focusing my efforts in one direction.”
Jonty said he has struggled with, for example, being clear about the stride he was approaching a fence on, with knowing from a distance whether he was going to be deep, or whether to adjust the canter.
“It felt like a huge amount of my intricacy had left the building and I was struggling to get that back,” he said. “It’s not like I’ve made a rash decision; I’ve worked a long time to get things better. Little things do get better, all the time, and they feel big things to me. Someone said that all the margins add up to a whole page.”
Jonty and Art will compete in two grade IV para tests next week.
“The most important thing is to do my horse justice,” Jonty said. “I don’t want to get on my horse or horses and let them down. Everyone says I haven’t, and everyone’s been very supportive, but I don’t need anyone else to say it, I need to know in my heart I haven’t let them down.
“I want to walk away and feel proud of myself and that means not letting the horse down. He’s my partner and that’s why I’m here.”
Jonty said Art, who he has described as his “best mate”, has changed during Jonty’s recovery.
“It’s quite funny because as I’ve got better; he’s never ‘naughty’ but he’s been more willing to do the odd thing, whereas at the beginning he was very careful with me. Now he’s more willing to be a horse again. He definitely knows.”
Jonty added that he and Art will keep doing their thing and enjoying it, as he aims to perform to the best of his horse’s ability.
“I’m passionate about that,” he said. “I don’t really care about level, I just want to come out and feel ‘I did all right’. That’s all I want, and to be honest, it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
“Every now and again, if I’m feeling down, I have to be stern with myself: ‘Just belt up, as there but for the grace of God, you could be dead’. We will give this our best shot.”
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