This is my first year on the World Class Programme, it is a huge honour and so reassuring to know the Team GBR support team is now in place to help me realise my medal and Paralympic ambitions.
Although I am relatively new to para-equestrian dressage my life has been built around horses. Before my accident I was an international showjumper, who competed internationally in Grand Prix classes. I spent many years training with some of the showjumping greats including Paul Schockemöhle and travelling the world. Unfortunately a bad fall left me with life changing injuries, which made me rethink my equestrian career.
I had several operations and worked hard for years in rehab. I knew a life on the Grand Prix showjumping circuit was no longer possible, however a chance encounter with Jane Goldsmith a member of the FEI Para Equestrian Committee led me successfully down a new path. Equally challenging and full of the normal highs and lows of competitive sport I am loving every minute of para dressage and very much focused on the year ahead.
The World Class Programme has supported me in so many ways and we have been to three squad training sessions so far this year. This is a superb opportunity for Zavailantika aka Tika and I to work with the World Class support team, the days are spent filled with training and assessment for both horse and rider.
The vet will check every inch of Tika, while the Doctor goes over my physical issues and how to cope with living with pain and immobility. Every aspect of our performance is assessed and recommendations are made for improvement. It is an amazing process and so helpful. Everything is considered and the team work together to ensure everything is perfect; the saddler works with the sports therapist, the vets work with the farriers and so on. This ongoing process is aimed at ensuring we arrive at every competition in peak physical and mental condition.
As well as focusing on Tika and I, we have attended the Grooms for Gold seminar. This was an opportunity for my wonderful grooms Matthew and Richard and my trainer Stephen to start learning about how best to travel, feed and care for our precious cargo when competing abroad. This will be very important if we are lucky enough to be selected for Rio, as the flight and heat will all have an effect on the horses, which we must be prepared for.
In return for all of this support I have to help promote the associations that support our para dressage including UK Sport and The National Lottery, one way I do this is via public appearances. Since being selected for the World Class Programme I have started giving talks at local schools, sports centers and community projects. This is TERRIFYING, give me a centre line at a major championship show any day! However the more I do the easier it gets. A room filled with school children or a lecture theatre with local associations can be scary but I am learning how to talk about para dressage and the challenges, which we have to overcome when competing in para sport. People are always so supportive; it’s a very humbling experience.
This is my first blog and a bit of a whistle stop tour of 2015 so far, yet it can’t really pass without mentioning my dancing partner. Tika, whose full name is Zavailantika, is an 11 year old, 1.70m bay mare, her Sire is Rhodium and Dam Line Burg Graft. I bought her from her breeder in Holland two and a half years ago and I still keep regular contact with them. I may be biased but to me she shows all the qualities needed for a top para horse, ability, paces and temperament. She is my number one and I’m so looking forward to seeing how our story unfolds.
Thanks for reading my first blog, I hope you found it interesting, it’s yet again another first for me and I’m sure it will get easier every time I write.
All the best
All images courtesy of Heather's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HeatherBennettParaDressage?fref=ts