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Para-equestrian champions

Flourish 23 Sep 2016

A love of horses and an admiration for skilled horsemanship is part of our country's DNA.

 Para-equestrian standing next to a horse
I no longer take excuses from able-bodied athletes about blisters etc. You would never hear Paralympians talk like that. They never, ever complain, they just get on with it.

It’s a heart-stopping sport. The smallest error by horse or rider and medal hopes are dashed after years of hard work and preparation. But when rider and horse work together in harmony, equestrian events are an exhilarating spectacle.

Four Paralympic riders were preparing to represent Australia on Deodoro Stadium’s equestrian arena at the Rio Paralympic Games when this article was written: Emma Booth, from Langwarrin South in Victoria; Katie Umback from Bega, New South Wales; Lisa Martin from Scone, New South Wales; and Beijing Paralympic veteran Sharon Jarvis from Donnybrook in Western Australia.

Prior to Rio, Australia had won nine medals in equestrian events at the Paralympic Games – three gold, one silver and five bronze — since the sport was introduced in Atlanta in 1996.

Even before competition begins, the Rio Para-Equestrian team has won gold, for the team with the most logistical challenges, Julia Battams, the team’s Head Coach, says. “The sailing team tried to claim it, but they just have to store boats in a warehouse. It doesn’t compare.

“We’ve packed brooms, rakes, sand, power boards and tool kits. In Rio the stables are basic concrete tilt slabs and we had to set them up when we got there,” Julia says.

The South American location added to the complications. The team had to go to Rio via Europe, so the horses could be considered European residents, because there are no transport protocols between South America and Australia.

Riders were accompanied by personal trainers and some took family and carers. As part of the official team, there were four grooms and four staff — a sports science manager, team leader, head coach and vet.

Team spirit is always strong among Paralympians, says Julia, who has been the National Performance Director for Para-Equestrian events since 2011.

“I’ve coached able equestrian teams and Paralympic equestrian teams,” she says. “They are completely different. Para-riders — their whole mindset is around, ‘How can I do that?’ Able-bodied athletes say, ‘It’s not working’.

“I no longer take excuses from able-bodied athletes about blisters, etc,” she says. “You would never hear Paralympians talk like that. They never, ever complain, they just get on with it.” 

words Annie Hall

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