Anthea Gunner, Para Equestrian Paralympian

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About Me

Growing Up

I started riding when I was six, after constant begging to my parents for a pony. They decided that my sister and I could take a winter holiday riding course in the hopes that we would think it was far too hard and give up on the idea. Now 22 years on both my sister and I are still going strong!

After many years of riding lessons I caught the eventing bug, after a friend let me borrow her horse for a few pony club rallies. From there mum and dad finally bought me my first horse Jamarakye, at age 13 and we went on to ride at Springston Trophy 6 times and represent Canterbury at the New Zealand Pony Club Eventing Championships in 1998. I was outgrowing Kye by that stage and that was when we bought Frankie.

Frankie had to learn from scratch, he was not a fan of dressage - although very capable, tending to be good right up until the first halt, then it would all turn to custard. He liked show jumping, and we also did some low level eventing including the South Island 3 Day Event in 2004. In April 2005, Aaron, Jack, Frankie and I packed up and moved to Wellington for work and while I continued to ride, it was a very different climate and winter riding was nigh on impossible!

My Accident

In January 2006 Frankie and I had an accident while I was leading him back to his paddock. We slipped and fell, landing in a narrow gully with me at the bottom. Eventually Frankie got out, and when I tried to get up to check that he was ok I realised that I couldn't move. I lay there for about 2 hours before a friend arrived and found me. I have never been so pleased to see someone! A very uncomfortable stretcher ride down the hill and equally uncomfortable ambulance ride to the hospital followed, and that afternoon I was transferred to Christchurch.

After a week at public hospital, then 4 months at the Burwood Spinal Unit in rehabilitation I returned to Wellington, my life drastically changed. The bright light at this time - aside from the unwavering support of my friends and family was Frankie. I convinced the doctors that riding was a great idea by week 9 at Burwood, and was allowed to go to an RDA facility for my first ride.

Extremely nervous but also excited, I was helped on to Barney and we rode. The smile when I arrived back at Burwood was a mile wide and never faltered for the rest of my rehab. I snuck out just prior to returning home and rode Frankie who had been sent back to live with my sister until such a time as I was able to look after him again. He was an absolute star.

My Disability

 I am a paraplegic, and suffered a fracture/dislocation at T10/11. I gave my spinal cord a pretty good munch which resulted in what they call a ‘complete’ diagnosis. However I continue to regain small amounts of mobility in my hips, although not very much sensation or feeling. I firmly believe that the additional mobility is due to riding!

 Life in a Wheelchair

Aaron and I returned to Wellington and I returned to work, after nearly a year of harassing my friends and missing Frankie I started riding at the Hutt Valley RDA. The bug was well and truly back and I soon became confident enough to start riding my friend's horse. Lollipop is very well trained and behaved and after the first time being literally thrown into the saddle my confidence grew to the point that Jason thought he might lose his horse.

It was decided that Frankie would come back from Christchurch and I would start retraining him. Frankie has not and still isn't always the most obliging character but he took it upon himself to not put a foot wrong and still looks after me now. He is very careful - to the point where it takes ages to get him actually moving forward nicely, and I usually have to ride without my whips but fortunately he is very good with the voice aids.

Unfortunately Frankie isn't too keen on Dressage and floating now so I started looking for a suitable horse to get me back into competition.

Back in the arena

I looked around, not sure whether to buy an experienced older horse and have to retrain it for my voice aids, or to look for a nice young horse and start from scratch. Mask was only six years old, a bit smaller than Frankie but still a good size for me. I had always wanted a skewbald horse and he was such a sweetheart - resting his head on my knee within minutes of us meeting.

He barely turned a hair at my wheelchair and we enjoyed a lovely relaxing ride down the beach the first time I rode him. Within an hour of leaving his owners I had decided to buy him. He wasn't as quick to pick up the aids - but I guess that having a partnership with Frankie for ten years counts for something.

He has learnt though and it was a great experience to learn to ride a completely different horse. He arrived in October and in January we competed in our first competition together. He was a star and gave me so much confidence; he was perfectly behaved and set us up in good stead for the 2008 South Island Championships soon after where they were running Para Equestrian classes.

The South Island Champs were a big challenge for me, riding tests that would be required of me if I was at the Paralympics on a horse that I had ridden at two competitions! We also had to compose a musical freestyle which I had never done before. Mask rose to the challenge again and while I was extremely nervous we did quite well and gained a 2nd and 3rd placing.

I also met some other Para Equestrian riders and gained some valuable knowledge and hints for my riding.

The biggest competition so far

Carrying on from this I set out to improve my scores at local competitions and in October after some good improvements I travelled to Australia with 5 other Para Equestrian riders to compete at the RDAA Dressage Championships. The biggest challenge was having to adapt to a borrowed horse and I was given the ride on a lovely wee pony called Merry Legs. While he was small in stature he was very well trained and we bonded well. I had initial fears about my legs dangling on the ground but these were allayed and we were placed in all 3 of our tests. We had top level judges there including one who judged at the Paralympics competition in Hong Kong so it was a good indicator of where we are and what I need to do. I also achieved my goal of a 60% score and was pleased with the way I rode and coped with the competition.

 

And another big event! 

In December 2009 I travelled to Werribee, Australia once again, for the CPEDI3*, with the goal of achieving a certificate of capability for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. I was fortunate to have the loan of the lovely Carman, owned by Sue Leslie who also owned Merrylegs from my 2008 trip.

Toffee has he was known was very well schooled and easy to ride, and we had a great time, achieving our 60% certificate of capability, and learning lots in the process. 

 

The Future

My goals now include relearning to canter so I can compete in graded dressage classes, travelling to Australia in 2011 to qualify for the Paralympic Games in London, 2012 and competing at the NZ National Championships and Horse of the Year in 2012. Once I have qualified for the Paralympics I definitely want to be included in a New Zealand team for the London Paralympics 2012 and further international representation.

 

I also would like to thank and acknowledge my fiancée Aaron, my family, friends and supporters. Without their help I wouldn’t be able to ride and would have no show of achieving my dreams

 

 

 

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