Europeans 2015 – Impossible is Temporary
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Hello, I’m Emma, a 26-year-old Para Dressage Rider from Ireland, currently on the High Performance Squad.
I had a life altering accident 4 years ago when a horse flipped over and smashed my spine, damaging the spinal nerves. At the time I was told I’d never walk again.
Getting my legs back
Luckily, within about 6 weeks I got some feeling and movement in one thigh, implying the injury was incomplete, and I was able to build up some power in my legs over the 11 months I stayed in hospital.
While my back healed, I couldn’t sit, so my options were: lie down or stand up in a special device. Standing when you can’t feel anything from the waist down and have no idea if your feet are touching the floor is very strange, but is definitely better for the mind than lying in bed. It also makes you feel really sick and horrible, but, thankfully, I regained enough strength to give learning to walk again a good stab.
I’m not one for sitting idle as it doesn’t make you happy, so I’ve taken something really horrible and turned it around to try to make some good come out of it. I am now competing internationally at 3* level in Para Dressage, a sport that’s relatively new to me, and working impossibly hard to qualify for the CPEDI European Championships in September.
What I do
I very ambitiously picked up Para Dressage in 2013 with a strange horse and some fantastic support from Nolan Eventing, among others. Little did I know then, how complicated this pony dancing stuff would be. I’m no stranger to hard work, but the training and discipline I’ve needed to make a dent in the para equestrian world have played a huge part in boosting my recovery from the accident.
I compete at Grade III Level (Para is graded on disability on a scale of I-IV) which has me riding Medium Level Dressage. My primary horse is Capitol Coin (Red), a 19-year-old eventer owned by the Nolan family, who took me from my very first Novice test in 2013 to International CPEDI3* in under 12 months.
We have already obtained our international qualifying scores for 2015 (in one outing). We train together 6 days a week (a 130km round trip for me) and are competing nationally in able-bodied dressage events. Sadly Red is getting too old for international duty so I’m working on getting a younger horse qualified to aid my chances of selection by the Irish team.
I was ranked 174th in the world at the last publication of FEI Para Dressage Individual World Rankings in December 2014 – after only one outing!
Where I’m standing now
My 2014 season was funded by fairy dust and good will. I had to sell my jeep from before the accident that had been passed to my Mum, and then later my adapted car to fund the season and get me started nationally. It was with these funds that I purchased a second hand dressage saddle last February (having been competing in my 10-year-old GP saddle off a 14.2hh pony until then). I tow with generously lent horse boxes and was sharing my dad’s van for most of the year.
Things took off when Paralympics Ireland selected me as a Fast-Track athlete early in 2014. This is for athletes discovered since London 2012 Paralympics who are most likely to compete in Rio 2016, and Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) received a small bursary to help me compete internationally.
A lot of my budget is still going into paying hospital bills so putting money aside is not the easiest task. Thankfully I was selected to receive the George Mernagh Memorial Bursary later in 2014 which is the main reason we actually got to CPEDI*** Hartpury in July. I was also selected as a Nissan Generation Next ambassador, for which I received the use of an X-Trail for one year which I picked up just as my father’s van was about to crumble from the pressure I put it under!
This is where you come in
If making my international début at Hartpury last season and bringing home results (6th in the Individual Championship and 4th in the Freestyle to Music) seemed impossible, 2015’s undertaking seems even worse.
After several false starts with replacement horses, I’ve found one…he just happens to be in Belgium! He is 11 and called Evaristo Biolley. He is on loan to me and we’re trying to qualify him for the CPEDI*** in Deauville in April.
If we can get the scores and be selected for CPEDI*** Deauville, the plan is to bring the horse home and simplify things for the rest of the season and have everything in one place.
My main goal for 2015 is to qualify for the Europeans which take place in France in September. To do so, I need to be out at as many CPEDI*** events as possible. Each of which will cost me at least €2,500 depending on the distance the horse has to travel.
The money fundraised through this campaign will be put towards entry fees (€20+ per test at national level, €600+ at international level), transport costs (international transport of horses €1,000+) and extra equipment if needed.
Your support will be much appreciated and you will join the team of very special people that have helped me to get this far. My progress in this sport and recovery since my accident would have not been possible without all the people behind me.
I’m willing to do the work, if you can make it possible, and I promise I will not let you down.
Thanks in advance,
+Thank Yous and Updates
Glimpse of a training session on Evaristo Biolley in my second week on him
(Click the handsome devil for a closer look)
RTÉ Radio - The John Murray Show
You can listen to me speak to John Murray about my story and this campaign on RTE Radio 1 via This LinkThanks to all those who've supported the campaign so far - hopefully this interview will rustle up some more interest.
We did it!
On Feb 22nd at 20:00 in Harelbeke in Belgium, Evaristo Biolley and I rode the FEI Tests (Team & Individual Championship) at our first ever show together. To qualify for international duty, we needed a score of 65% which took me 7 months to get to with Capitol Coin. Somehow, after only two (non-consecutive) weeks of riding him, we did it! 65.92% with plenty of room for improvement as my nerves were a big factor. My first dressage test in a double-bridle, late at night, in a strange country in front of a very high-level judge, hopefully it can only improve with experience...
Talking to IrishhorseTV
A big thank you to IrishhorseTV for having me in studio last week. Here's the interview: