A triple European gold medal-winning para dressage rider is to compete in swimming alongside equestrianism.
H&H blogger Suzanna Hext, a former two-star eventer who suffered a life-changing riding accident in 2012 and went on to win two individual and team gold at the European Para Dressage Championships in 2017, received classification on 5 January which will allow her to compete in British para swimming competitions.
Suz told H&H: “Much like equestrianism you have to be classified to grade your disability. I’ve been swimming with Swindon Dolphin ASC for a few years but I just did club competitions with them. Swimming is something I find really easy so we decided we would see what my classification came out as.
“When I first started training with Swindon Dolphin it was alongside the able-bodied swimmers and it’s just the sense of feeling on a level with everyone and you kind of forget about your disability and all your challenges fade away – I really enjoy it. I look forward to seeing where it takes me this year and I’ll get some races under my belt.”
Suz has received a S5 classification.
“You have to go to a classification day and you do strength testing, power and coordination testing and you have a skill test in the water followed by a race in the evening. It’s a bit different from equestrianism in that the gradings go from S1 to S14 rather than grade I to IV. S1 to S10 is physical disabilities, S11 to S13 is visually impaired and S14 is mentally impaired,” said Suz.
Suz said she looks forward to seeing where swimming will take her but riding is her “ultimate goal”.
“Riding is always going to be the first priority but I’m aiming to fit swimming competitions around it,” she said.
“With riding there are lots of highs and lows, as with any sport, and swimming helps me switch off. I train with Swindon Dolphin at either 5am or 8.30pm and it’s a really good group of people to be around.”
Suz hopes to begin competing in para swimming competitions in March and has qualified for the British Para Swimming regional championships in May in the 50m and 100m freestyle and 50m breaststroke.
“As part of your classification you have to swim a 100m breaststroke and a 100m freestyle, then I did a 50 freestyle as well.” said Suz. “Breaststroke is definitely not my favourite stroke. I find freestyle easiest – because I can’t use my legs in the water, I have quite a strong upper body and have a strong freestyle stroke and can power myself forward.”
Suz said swimming “complements” her riding.
“The lottery-funded equestrian World Class programme, which I’m on, has been focusing a lot recently on athletes’ health and fitness – they’re raising the importance of the fitness of the athletes, as well as the horses. They’ve been supportive in planning my season, which is imperative having the teamwork there and working together,” she said.
“I’ve always been extremely active and it was difficult for me after my accident not having that other side of my life. When I was eventing I used to do cross-country running but swimming gives me the same feeling and freedom, much like riding does. It’s something I’m really passionate about and it’s helped me in the saddle, I’m a lot stronger in the saddle with my core and stamina so it’s only enhancing my performance.”
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Suzanna said she is looking forward to a busy year and is feeling well after an operation on her ear at the end of 2018.
“Normally I’d feel like an operation had set me back more but because I’ve worked hard this winter to get my fitness up it hasn’t knocked me as much as it usually does. The doctors seem positive that I should be good to go now for the season,” said Suz.
“The plan is to go abroad with Ljt Enggaards Solitaire who will go to Blue Hors and the aim is to take Ljt Lucas Normark to Deauville in April, so it’s a busy few months coming up and a busy year with the swimming as well but that’s the way I like it. I’ve been working really hard with the strength conditioning team at Oaksey House so I feel strong and ready to take it all on.
“Being active has always been me as a person, I’ve been really lucky because after my accident I never thought I’d get that part of my life back. To be training just as much as before and if not more means the world to me.”
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