A team of disabled dressage riders from Cornwall have triumphed at a prestigious national competition.
On the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August, five members of the North Cornwall Riding for the Disabled (RDA) group, based at Lakefield Equestrian Centre in Camelford, ventured north to Solihull Riding Club for the British Dressage Festival of Para Dressage.
Making up the team were riders Sarah Cooper, Jason Inchley, Claire Tregaskis, Neve McLennan and Julie Furber.
This festival was to replace the Para Summer National Championships, which both Jason and Claire had qualified for. However due to the coronavirus outbreak, the championship qualifications were moved to the winter finals and British Dressage (BD) ran the Festival of Para Dressage instead – allowing North Cornwall RDA to take a bigger team of riders.
Mark Cunliffe, owner of Lakefield Equestrian Centre, said: “The lead up to the Festival was not without its challenges with Sarah Cooper’s horse, Lluso, contracting a mystery infection two days prior to the competition. This meant that Lluso had to stay at home.
“Never to let adversity stand in our way we found a substitute horse on the yard. Sarah sat on Blue, a six-year-old purchased by the RDA prior to lockdown, for the first time two days before the show. Thankfully Sarah felt that she would be able to work with Blue. This was ideal for North Cornwall RDA as this would give Blue his first chance to compete for the group.
“For three of the five riders this was their first experience of a large para-dressage championship event, with Sarah and Jason having both won para national championships previously. Although for Neve this was her first ever dressage competition so nerves, anxiety and excitement were all in equal measure.”
Over the two days of competition, all of the riders and horses performed extremely well. In the Grade 1 silver classes, Claire Tregaskis achieved scores of 69.5% and 66.5%. This was Claire and her horse Willow’s first attempt at the Silver Novice A test and they won both classes. She said: “I still can’t quite believe that aged 58, and with my level of CP, I really went and did what I did. I am living the dream right now.
“I went to Solihull with no great expectations, other than to soak up the atmosphere of a para-dressage event. Willow hadn’t been to such a high level event before either, but she remained calm, relaxed and focused, and did everything I asked of her. She was a total star, and so deserved her moment in the sun!”
Jason Inchley rode three tests with his lovely horse, Ella, over the two days. They both surpassed all expectations as again Jason, like Claire, took on the Silver Novice A test for his grade. Jason achieved two 70% tests and a huge 73.29% score in the Festival test. He said: “What a weekend at the Para Dressage Festival! Our first competition since February and it seems that lockdown has done wonders for Ella and me!
“On Sunday we did the Festival class of the Silver Novice A and had an international para judge. They had judged our test at the RDA Nationals last year and we only scored 63.50%, so we were interested to see if we had improved. We only went and won again with a huge score of 73.29%! I am so happy with our marks and judges comments.”
Sarah Cooper and her last-minute replacement ride, Blue, competed in the Grade 2 Silver classes and came away with two second places. Sarah did an extremely professional and sympathetic job at producing Blue for his tests and came away with 67% and 68% scores.
She said: “What a weekend this young horse has had. First time stabling away from home and his first ever para competition. He has taken absolutely everything in his stride. He needs to get stronger in his walk, so more hacking with hill work. I feel so proud that North Cornwall RDA entrusted Blue’s first para competition experience to me – what a star for the future.”
Julie Furber, riding in the Grade 5 Bronze classes, had to ride superbly well to contain the overly enthusiastic Rasta, aged 20 years old. She explained: “The horse I ride is Rastafari (Rasta) and he has not competed for nearly a year due to coronavirus. He was therefore rather on his toes with the excitement of the day.
“I really enjoyed both my classes on Saturday and Sunday and came third in both, which meant I was third overall Grade V Bronze level. The rosettes were lovely and my team members that won their classes also had beautiful trophies and numnahs sponsored by Equissage. The weekend was amazing and such fun with good friends and it is something I will never forget.”
Finally Neve McLennan, who is a Grade 4 rider due to her total visual impairment, took on her first ever Bronze tests, at her first ever affiliated dressage competition. Also riding Willow, Neve came away with two wins from both her classes.
She said: “This weekend at Solihull was my first para-competition and completely blew all my expectations. Willow was absolutely amazing and pulled it out of the bag with two wins and two huge scores that really surprised me.
“We came away from our first test with an amazing score of 71.25%. On the second day we had the Festival test and had another cracking test. Willow gave me such a nice ride and made it hugely enjoyable. We earned an even better score of 72.5% from international judge, John Robinson!
“The whole weekend was so enjoyable, not only because of the tests, but also because of the atmosphere created by everyone who attended. After missing out on the RDA competitions due to Covid-19 it was really nice to be able to compete thanks to Solihull Riding Club and British Dressage. The whole weekend was so brilliantly run and was such a great experience.”