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Rider aims to compete in swimming rather than dressage in Tokyo

British para gold medallist Suzanna Hext is setting her sights on the Tokyo Paralympics — but in swimming, rather than riding.

The grade II rider, who won triple gold at the 2017 European Championships on Abira, has made the “difficult” decision to step back from equestrian competition for 2020, and to focus her attention on making her Paralympic debut as a swimmer.

“This has been a hard decision as riding is my life. I talked it through with my family and both my equestrian and swimming teams, who have been very supportive, and it feels like the right thing for me at the moment, as I have had a slight lull in horsepower anyway,” said Suzanna, whose top horse, LJT Enggaards Solitaire (Sid), has returned to his owners, Henrietta Cheetham and the Lady Joseph Trust.

“It was the best decision for Sid to go back to his owners, who have supported me greatly and where he will be really well looked after,” Suzanna told H&H. “I miss him a lot — especially his little whicker as I ride down the yard on my scooter — but I am away so much at the moment with swimming that this is best for him. He has given me so much.”

The 15-year-old Danish-bred gelding by Blue Hors Soprano scored six international wins with Suzanna, who took over the ride from world and European team gold medallist Ricky Balshaw.

“I am keeping my ears open for a new ride and my aim is to come back for the 2021 Europeans. I am still riding whenever I can at Talland — Pammy Hutton and the team there are a massive support to me,” said Suzanna, a former two-star eventer who suffered a life-changing riding accident in 2012. “But in the meantime this is a massive opportunity for me with British Swimming, which has been very supportive.”

The 31-year-old was classified as a para swimmer in January 2019 and went on to achieve stellar results in her first year competing in the sport, winning silver and bronze medals at the World Para Swimming Championships in September.

She recently spent time training in Tokyo, Japan, in preparation for her Paralympic selection campaign, also getting the opportunity to walk for the first time in seven years using a robotic device known as a hybrid assistive limb or HAL.

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“When I was walking for the first time in so long I didn’t know whether to smile or cry — it was just amazing,” said Suzanna. “Unfortunately my physical condition is deteriorating and I had had some hard hospital appointments just before I left for Japan, so to have this opportunity was incredible.”

“Right now I’m the strongest I can be,” she added. “Swimming is good for my disability and I feel very free in the water, just as I do when I’m in the saddle. Both sports make me feel as though all my challenges fade away, and swimming gives me the sort of adrenalin rush I used to get from riding cross-country when I was eventing.

“I miss competing in dressage, but I want to throw everything at my swimming and see where it takes me. My big dream is to compete at the Paralympics in two different sports.”

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