Jodie Thorne Grade 1 Para rider (with Ira Hayes) and Nicola Essex Grade 2 Para rider (with Craighaven Allanon) presenting on behalf of ESNZ Para Equestrian.
Jodie Thorne & Ira Hayes
I’m a Grade 1 Para rider from Tauranga, and my horse is Ira Hayes, a 10 year old Irish gelding owned by Rosie Richards. I was diagnosed with FSHD – a form of muscular dystrophy – when I was 12 years old. FSHD is a progressive muscle wasting disease that affects most of the muscles in my body – from my eyelids through to my fingers and toes. My balance has been seriously affected over the last two years, and I spend most of my time in a wheelchair now because I fall easily when I try and walk unassisted. Riding has been an essential part of my life – providing vital exercise as well as the opportunity to compete on a level playing field in Para Equestrian Dressage. I’ve been competing around the North Island for the last 8 years, alongside running my web design business Wicked Eye. I was given the incredible opportunity to ride Ira in May this year, and we’ve been working hard over winter to get to know each other. Ira has competed up to Level 4 dressage with his owner, but has never had any experience with a disabled rider on board. Since being with me, he’s had to learn to cope with lots of new things: my unique aids, my uneven position (due to my muscle weakness), to stay in walk for my entire ride, sidewalkers and most importantly, learn to stand still if I collapse through my trunk and fall-forward onto his neck. If this happens, my ground crew have to run in and catch me, then push me back up into the upright position again. It’s imperative that Ira stands still throughout all this excitement, and he’s passed this test with flying colours so far! I couldn’t ride or keep a horse without my amazing (volunteer) crew. They are my arms and legs, and take care of all my horse care (under my watchful eye!) and help me ride; everything from grooming, feeding and tacking up, to helping me on and off my horse and being my safety net while I’m in the saddle. Para Equestrian is certainly a team sport! Mine and Ira’s first competition together is the Bay of Plenty Championships, and I can’t wait to get out in front of the judges to see what we can do in the arena together. We’ve then got our first full season as a combination, with our sights firmly set on competing in Australia in the following year or two. Bring it on!
Nicola Essex & Craighaven Allanon
20 yrs ago I was galloping around the Taupo 3DE, riding track work, and had several lovely young horses. I grew up through PC certificates from age 8, many years of competition, yearling drafts and was a qualified London City of Guild’s chef. That’s when my Rheumatoid Arthritis decided to take hold. For the next year I was hospitalised one week per month on steroid treatment, and the next 10yrs, me and my Rheumotologists fought to get it under control. In 2010, a new but expensive drug made a big difference and I managed to get back on a horse – an schoolmistress called Dezzie. I was Classified Grade V and started competing Para. In 2012 I became Grade IV and in June this year, I was Classified in Brisbane as a Grade II. For the last 4 yrs I have been trialling a new drug which has finally slowed my joint damage and I’ve had toe reconstruction on both feet. Eventually I will need hands, elbows and shoulders done, but not until I can’t hold the reins at all! Most annoying of all is my neck which has severely deteriorated and has finally fused itself, so my only movement is through the plate on C1. Hence why I wear a neck brace much of my time until it can be surgically stabilised – not just because I’m a fashionista! Surgery is a big commitment, and the thought of another 6 months of not riding and losing movement / muscle as a result isn’t fun. I still work full-time to fund my sport which is hard, but a necessity. The sport of Para Dressage has meant that I can compete again for which I am so grateful. Without my adapted gear I would not be able to ride let alone compete at HOY and ride here at Equitana. Mum was diagnosed a few months before me with RA so together we have dealt with the hand of cards we’ve been given, and adopted what we call “cripples horsemanship”. You won’t find that in the books, but it works! Craighaven Allanon, also known as Denim, is a Clydesdale x TB gelding and a level 5 dressage horse. He’s a destroyer of feed bins, gates and the side of our truck, and would spend all his life in a stable if he could! Our horses are all just nice horses who have become “Parafied”. And no we aren’t supposed to ride… (our doctor’s shake their heads) and yes it is risky… but you only live once!