Anthea Gunner, Para Equestrian Paralympian


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Mosquitoes and Man Flu at Manfield

Posted by Anthea Gunner on February 22, 2018 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (1)

Well it seems it has been a while since my last blog!! Oops :)

After a couple of below par tests at South Island Champs it was with some nervousness that we packed the truck and float and headed north for the Bates Dressage & Para Dressage National Championships.

Brian had been chiro’ed, massaged, had his feet checked, and had a tune up under saddle prior to leaving so I knew that there was no reason for him to be a turd again, other than if he felt like it! Still he looked and felt great so off we went.

We were off to a slow start after getting 5kms down the road only to find I didn’t have my sunglasses – so back we went but alas I still can’t find them! Aaron did find an old pair that were probably from 10 or so years ago and I apparently looked like Neo from the Matrix movie. Aaron took great delight at teasing me the whole way there (and back!).

It was a hot day – sitting around 30 degrees the whole way up the Kaikoura Coast to Blenheim. We stopped at the Kaikoura Bakery for the mandatory ‘mountain top savouries’ (the most delish potato top pies I have ever had), and looked in awe at the enormous amount of mountain side that had come down after the big earthquake in late 2016 and at the amount of work that has been done to restore and/or rebuild the road. It is really a phenomenal effort and once finished will make for a much nicer trip although equally scenic.

We arrived into Blenheim at around 5pm and were fortunate to be able to stay at the Marlborough RDA. Brian had a lovely time cantering around the outdoor arena and rolling in the sand. He then got to spend the night in one of their brand new stables – so roomy and comfortable for him! Aaron and I camped in the staff room and we were very comfy except for the beginning of ‘man flu’ that I had caught from Aaron. It was a long night trying to cope with the feeling of swallowing razor blades and I did resort to putting anti flamme cream on my throat at one point – life hack here as it really helped ease the pain!!

(Photo: the gorgeous Picton Marina)

We were up early on the Tuesday to catch the ferry to Wellington. It was another beautiful day, and a very smooth crossing across Cook Strait. We left Wellington at lunchtime and pushed on straight through to Feilding, around 2 hours drive further north. We were all pleased to arrive and settle in to our camping spot for the week.

It was the first time that I had been camping in a tent since I was 14 at school camp, then it had not gone particularly well and we were flooded in the middle of the night. I had been checking the weather forecast for Feilding and it was looking fine and warm all week so I had my fingers crossed it would stay that way. We had a great spot under an oak tree, and approx. 20m from Brian’s yard. I was lucky to have a queen airbed on a stretcher to myself, and Aaron had his own room in the tent. Thanks Regan for the loan of the tent and Becky for the stretcher!

The one thing I hadn’t realised was how many flies liked to come into the tent. Even with the food all packed away they were everywhere!! And the bloody mosquitoes – not something that is terribly common in many parts of NZ but with the current weather and high humidity they were everywhere and taking great delight in chewing on me.

Brian travelled really well and settled in, he had friendly neighbours and was quite the social butterfly with his new mates. As is usual at shows where there are many horses camped in close proximity there were horses who didn’t get on with their neighbours and they were quite noisy. Brian looked like he thought all that noise and energy was a waste but then he is the most laid back horse I have ever met!

On Wednesday we had arena familiarisation in the indoor stadium which was where I was to ride all of my tests. I had ridden him outside for 30 mins or so already but he got quite excited as we went inside for the first time. I thought oh great! This won’t bode well for our tests but he settled quickly thank goodness. We had a riders meeting later in the day and it was great to catch up with fellow para riders from around NZ. There aren’t many of us in the South Island and it has been 3 years since I ventured north to compete.

Thursday bought the major onset of the man flu, until that point I had been mostly just blowing my nose constantly but this day I was tired and weak and had a bit of a fever. I was riding my test late in the day so just took things quietly, which was frustrating as I wanted to get out and watch as much as I could but I didn’t have the energy.

Brian was a very good boy, warmed up really well and did a credible test to win on 63.75% in a close competition! We had very encouraging comments and Brian was pretty relaxed indoors, thanks to his new mate Davey who came as a companion horse.

Friday I felt even worse and Aaron had to groom and tack Brian up for me as I could barely get myself organised! Maybe he felt a little guilty for giving the germs to me??!! I was very grateful that he did and Bri once again warmed up well – in fact some of the best work he has ever done which blew me away! Pleasingly a friend who was judging nearby also saw it and said later we looked amazing – so pleased I wasn’t dreaming! 

The test went pretty well, Bri was the most relaxed he has ever been in a test and gave me a great feeling, and while technically we have much to improve I felt like I could actually ride him in the test rather than steer and the movements flowed much better. We snuck ahead to win again on 63.38% and I was really pleased overall.

I managed to celebrate by cooking my own tea on the gas cooker in the tent, Aaron has very proud that I was coping with camping so well, washing dishes and clothes in a bucket even. All in all the whole camping thing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be due to the great weather!

We had been asked to do a ridden demonstration during the Saturday evening Spectacular which was a great opportunity to showcase and educate everyone on Para sport. It was rather nervewracking putting ourselves on display in front of such a knowledgeable and experienced dressage crowd. Brian thought it was marvellous having so many people there to watch him, and miraculously was the most relaxed he has ever been in an arena – if only I could get that in a test!! With great and informative commentary from fellow Para rider and National Riders representative Nicola Essex the demo was very well received and Brian did a nice job of showing the different movements that Grade III riders have to perform. Other than a spook at the end when everyone started clapping he was impeccably behaved. Seems he has a show off streak as well!

The evening was very enjoyable and we saw some great freestyle performances from our leading Grand Prix combinations who are vying for a place at this year’s World Equestrian Games in the USA. I certainly hope they get there as they will surely do us proud.

(Photo: Thanks to Libby Law Photography!)

It was our turn for Freestyles on Sunday, and for Brian’s 2nd ever attempt I was very pleased with him. Despite being a bit miffed at the lack of spectators in the indoor he once again stepped up and was more settled and rideable in the test. We didn’t have to cut as many corners as we did at SI Champs and other than a couple of rider errors did a lovely test to our Transformers music. We won again on 66.889 and a 67 from the FEI 5* German judge. It was a great way to finish the trip!

So while we are still both very much a work in progress I was really pleased with the progress we made and the improvement in our performances. Now it’s my job to keep this up and work on my accuracy as well as the quality of the work. To come home as National Champions was the icing on the cake and it feels like taking our time and getting things working in the right way before putting ourselves out there at that level was the right thing to do.

Brian was a star for prizegiving, to be fair he was getting pretty tired by that point of the week! We had packed up camp and started on the long trip home on Sunday night. With a very early ferry crossing on Monday morning it made sense to stay at Trentham, Brian at the racecourse where he enjoyed a pick of proper green grass, and us nearby at a motel – yay for a proper bed!!

It seemed like a good idea at the time booking at 6am ferry, but in reality it was tough getting out of bed at 4am to get there to check in at 5! Still the crossing was again super smooth and we stopped for a breather again at Marlborough RDA. Brian was very much enjoying his time in the arena and didn’t want to go back on the float! We convinced him in the end (to be honest we had all had enough by that point but it was still a long way to go!) and headed back down the Kaikoura Coast towards home.

The sea was eerily calm the whole way down, and we saw seals, dolphins and even a whale from the road. Some good timing waiting in roadworks watching the dolphins playing!! And we got the last mountain top savouries at the bakery so it was a great trip. It was a horribly long day but we finally arrived home at 5pm. Brian was very happy to be back in his own paddock and will now enjoy a couple of weeks off.

I’m still recovering from the damned man flu, having now got a sinus infection so I guess I need a break too! It also seems we had incredible timing as Cyclone Gita hit NZ the day after we got back, causing significant damage to the roads from Wellington to Christchurch so we are pleased that we were home safe before that!

I’d like to thank Aaron for taking us and looking after us for the week, Mum who looked after everyone else back at home, my sponsors and support team, Joy White –Select Health, Louise and Hannah at Head 2 Toe Studio Massage Therapy, Sam Gillman –Farrier, Sophie Wigley – Rangiora Vet Centre, Janelle Sangster Ward – Peak Performance Equine NZ, Andrea Bank & Nicki Ford who keep Bri and I on the straight and narrow.

I’d also like thank the event sponsors – Bates Saddles – 20 years supporting Dressage Champs in NZ – David thank you! Para sponsors Charlie Chaff, Boeckmann Horsefloats, Peurgon and Designer nCo – thank you for your support of our sport! And to Dressage NZ, Chelsea Burns Para event manager, all officials and volunteers – thank you for a wonderful event. We really enjoyed our time and the event ran so smoothly.




The Power of PEMF

Posted by Anthea Gunner on October 12, 2016 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (2)

It’s been a long frustrating winter, after breaking my leg at the end of May. What started as a little spook escalated quickly when my rubber band on my foot snapped and whacked Brian in the side, causing him to jump sideways and an already slightly off balance Anthea had nowhere to go but off the side! Worse luck my foot got caught in the (safety!) stirrup and I ended up hanging off the side, where I was very pleased to have a sensible horse who stopped and stood still! However the damage was done which I discovered 2 days later when my leg was swollen and bruised…. Spiral fracture of the tibia… 6-8 weeks in cast they said.

And so the recovery began, typically the weather was still stunning if cold for May in NZ. We had just worked through a tricky patch starting to ask for canter and losing the ability for everything else in the process! Brian had 6 weeks on holiday which he had deserved and I dutifully visited the hospital every 2 weeks for a skin check and xray. The healing started well but at 6 weeks everything stalled and by 10 weeks I was becoming extremely frustrated with everything!

‘Let’s give it 4 more week’s’ the surgeon said, reluctant to have to do surgery but it was 50/50 as to whether my leg would get started healing or not. I was also reluctant to have surgery as I had hoped to be back riding by 10 weeks, not facing more uncertainty. After a facebook rant a friend said ‘come try my PEMF blanket’ and with nothing to lose off I went, taking over Sally & John’s living room 2-3 times a week for 4 weeks. Pulse Electro Magnetic Field Therapy  was originally used in the USA for healing ‘non-union’ fractures (so bones that won’t heal themselves), and amongst other things promotes circulation throughout the body. Since my spinal injury circulation is not my strong point!

In the meantime Brian was now back in very light work being lunged, now that my cast was below the knee instead of mid thigh and after many nights watching cavaletti clips on you tube I set up some poles and Aaron made me a couple of cavaletti to use in the hopes of keeping Brian from dying of boredom on the lunge. He was a little excited to start with, especially when I made the cavaletti into a jump for fun at the end, talk about overachiever!

I went back for another xray at 12 weeks, still no visible change ‘surgery looks likely’ they said and I grew ever frustrated, but dutifully continued the PEMF and taking various supplements to assist healing. With dread building I returned at 14 weeks, prepared for the worst and wondering if I would be riding before Christmas!

When the doctor came in and said it looks great and unlikely that I would need a cast anymore you could have knocked me down with a feather! Looking at the xray there was only a very faint line and lots of blurriness which they told me was great. So I was sent home in a moon boot for 4 weeks and with a 6-8 week timeline for riding. So 6 weeks is this weekend so I’m getting back on rain or shine even if it’s just for a walk around!

I’ve continued with the PEMF treatments (and I really enjoy Sally & John’s company!) just to ensure that the healing is complete and am convinced that it is what has made the difference to my healing. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again, and I am sure Brian’s turn will also come. If you want to try it Sally also has a PEMF horse rug and offers treatments, you can check out her website I really appreciate Sally’s support and hospitality throughout this frustrating time.

Now Brian is ready to go having been massaged, had his chiropractic check up with my lovely sponsor Dr Joy White which I was very pleased to see how much better his body and posture is, no longer is the wither a touchy area, it’s now his favourite place for a scratch! It has cemented that the slow and steady approach to his training is paying off and that he is more comfortable and building strength in the right places. His feet have also been done and he is almost fit to go out in public - 5 months of mane growing is quite impressive – thanks Jo for tidying it up! The lunging has really paid off with much better movement and range coming from his hind quarters and now I just need to get on and go!

Looking forward to next weekend!



Posted by Anthea Gunner on January 11, 2016 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (2)

Today (11th January 2016) marks 10 years since my spinal injury – a decade that has bought so many memories both good and not so much. I thought I’d reflect on how far I’ve come, and some of the character building moments!

I don’t remember a lot about the accident, other than the long wait and the extremely painful journey down the hill on the hard board with the ambulance crew. I remember wondering if Frankie was ok, never really thinking about myself and my new found predicament.

I remember my Auntie Yvonne picking the grass out of my hair in the hospital, and me telling the doctors to ring work as I wouldn’t be in that day and they would worry. I remember the overwhelming smell of human poo in the ward room at Christchurch Hospital but didn’t have the presence of mind to know if it was mine or someone else’s!

I remember being grateful to have my own room after that, and for all the masses of flowers that arrived from friends and family. I remember the boxes of books and chocolates that arrived from my workmates at CourierPost, and the scratchie tickets that family bought me to help pass the time. I remember the morphine drip and waking Aaron up during the night because he was snoring too loud.

I remember the frustration of having to dress myself for the first time – who would have thought that it would take 30 minutes to put your bloody pants on! I remember having to learn (quickly) how to swallow pills down and training the physios and Aaron to run for a bucket when I said that I felt sick.

I remember being proud when I could finally pull a wheelie in my chair the length of the gym, and working on my balance in my saddle during my gym sessions so that I would be ready to ride again at the earliest opportunity. And the bribery from Aaron to help me achieve the key milestones in the gym.

I remember that first ride back on the gorgeous Barney at RDA. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to balance, or stay upright. When Effie made me put my hands on my head I think I nearly cried. You would have missed it if you had blinked. But I did it, and it reignited the fire to get back on the horse again. Then there was riding Frankie again, and he treated me like spun glass – so pleased to see his mother again after having such a terrifying experience.

I remember moving home to Wellington, and having to figure out how to reach into the washing machine to get the washing out, and figuring out cooking without setting myself on fire with the gas hobs. There was driving and getting back to work. The support I received from my workmates was incredible, and made that part so much easier and gave me new experiences like orienteering in the forest at Rotorua (with a team of burly blokes to chauffeur me) and the gondola ride!

I went sit skiing and rafting but still wasn’t as brave as some; I did the Catwalk Conquest Tour – my first foray into motorbiking that wasn’t feeding out on the quad! I relearnt to ride and retrained Frankie to accept my new aids with the help of good friends. And then here was Mask.

The horse of anyone’s dreams and he certainly made mine a reality. He was not always easy but he taught me a huge amount especially how to sit to a spook! I am still so proud of what we achieved together, taking on the world in London – the only rider in my grade who didn’t have a coach or other rider warm their horse in before their tests – at home I had to do it myself so why change the routine? I remember how brave he was in the training arena with 10 horses in a single arena and how he strutted around like he belonged there.

I remember being a blubbering mess at the Greenwich Tavern afterwards, trying and failing to thank my support team who kept everything together and made it all happen. I remember Aaron running over a lady’s foot with my chair as we tried to get on the Tube amongst the throngs of commuters and having McDonalds in the Paralympic Village.

I remember my first trip to Germany – 30 hours on the plane, having to drive on the wrong side of the road, hoping that I’d be able to ride Don well! What if I bounced straight off??!! But it went so well and then I tackled the across the world trip by myself. The memories of having the flight attendant guard the toilet door as it wouldn’t shut with the aisle chair in it, having to fumble my way through ordering food and finding my way around with only the most basic understanding of German. Feeling embarrassed when I tried order my breakfast in German and they couldn’t understand me!

Staying in hotels where I couldn’t fit into the ensuite, or use the shower, or park my chair next to the bed. Navigating the trains, autobahn and 5 lanes of ring road at Antwerp. Building a real partnership with Don and cementing my role as chief bandage roller and bridle cleaner at Team HB. Competing with best in the world on their home soil and not feeling like a fish out of water. And riding down the centre line at WEG with the NZ flag on my jacket again.

I remember marrying my childhood sweetheart (finally!), building our home and creating our property from scratch. It’s so rewarding seeing how far we have progressed from a bare paddock to what we have now. I remember Diesel running around the lawn with a towel from the washing line in his mouth and me yelling at Aaron about his bloody dog! Then Rufus who pulled the same rose out of the garden 6 times! No it didn’t survive.

Now I’m enjoying a new journey with Brian, who has taught me that patience and perseverance will pay off. Bit by bit. And I’m grateful for the independence I have gained, skills I have learnt, the people who have mentored me, those who have supported me in my achievements and I can only hope that I can pay you back somehow, someday.

I read an article the other day about 15 things you should never say to someone in a wheelchair, sometimes things can be sensitive and you might not want to share them. But I have learnt to roll with the punches, don’t be offended, be positive, a role model, have fun, and if you get frustrated swear like a sailor.

Life’s too short to dwell on the small stuff. Here’s to another bumper 10 years.







The Winter Slog

Posted by Anthea Gunner on August 9, 2015 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

As I sit here watching it try to snow (and fail so far!) it’s exciting to think that its ‘nearly’ spring (3 weeks and counting) although we have been lucky (??!! ) this winter has been relatively dry, although that doesn’t bode well for summer if it is this dry in August!

We have managed to dodge most of the winter weather, other than some spectacular frosts so far although trying to bring Brian back into work after his holiday has been slow going after battling a bad cold for a few weeks.

Still my feet have healed beautifully after surgery in June and I now have straight little toes that no longer cause my feet and legs to spasm if they don’t like my shoes. It’s made a big difference and now when I ride that’s one less thing to try and bugger up my balance! They healed much quicker than anticipated, being back in the saddle 4 weeks after my surgery although I have been taking it very quietly.

Brian has also been to see the eye specialist as he has had a sore eye for quite a while and treatments we have tried haven’t seemed to fix the problem. Still after the visit we have a plan and I’m pleased to say it has improved and he is much more comfortable! And I have to say of all the horses I have ever had to put eye drops in he is hands down the best – 2x a day for nearly 2 months and not once has he been at all difficult. He is such a dude – also having his eye consult in the float outside the vet’s practice!

Brian’s work has been very good, we have been doing lots of lunging teaching him to stretch and be straight through his body – which has been tricky as he very much likes to be crooked! We have also added trotting poles to his regime which he thought was really fun and hopefully if we can get some nice weather at the weekend get back out for a hack at the river.

I’ve also been busy judging and coaching and am really chuffed with my clients achievements, whether they are out competing or working towards competing, it’s a real buzz to see them making such good progress and experiencing those light bulb moments!

With not a lot else on the go we are working towards being back out competing mid to late September and working on setting my goals for the upcoming summer season!

Keep warm and stay safe

Till next time,

Anthea & Brian


Moving On

Posted by Anthea Gunner on May 28, 2015 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (1)

Once again I find myself playing catch up on a couple of months’ worth of updates! Time flies when you are having fun!

March bought the Dressage & Para Dressage Nationals in Feilding, where Mask was his usual superstar self, coming home with the champion ribbon and rug. It was my first time to Feilding and the facilities were very good, even if the weather wasn’t always! I was also very impressed with the Manfield Park Motel, fabulous customer service, rooms and the most impressive wheelchair accessible bathroom yet.

I was very lucky to have the company of the fabulous Leigh Jones and Joy White for the week who were key to our success, and have to hugely thank them both for their help and support, and also to Joy for delivering Mask safely from home and back to home.

Mask was very pleased with the lovely indoor arena at Manfield, although a bit miffed at the lack of fans in the seating! He did 3 good tests, and nearly cracked our personal best in the musical freestyle test. It was a very enjoyable week although I was very nearly a little bit teary at the prizegiving thinking about possibly my last time on Mask!

**thanks Libby Law for the gorgeous photo**

We came home and Mask had a wee break while Brian started to ramp up again after his own break and came back feeling much better after some chiropractic work from Joy which freed up his wither and neck hugely and now we are making good progress. He is improving hugely, although still lots to do.

He went to a local show in early April where he did some great work in the warm up but couldn’t quite keep it up in the ring in front of the judge, however it’s all good experience and learning about what to do differently next time! He was perfectly behaved in a horrendous wind so that is something to be pleased about too.

Mask was ticking along at home, being capably ridden by Jessy next door, even going to Interschools Dressage and a local day in Rangiora for very good results. I was very grateful to Jess for keeping him going as with daylight savings going I was really struggling to keep both in work!

Late in April the day came to farewell Mask as we had found a lovely home for him. It was very sad but somehow right, and I’m really pleased that he is loved and having lots of fun, I bet he couldn’t believe his luck getting to do jumps and go to the beach! He is not too far from home so I am looking forward to seeing how he and Suzy progress as they get to know each other.

So Brian has become number one and had his first big test in the public eye as we were invited to ride a demonstration at the NZRDA National Training Seminar last weekend. ‘Only about 100 people’ a friend told me! I shouldn’t have worried, Brian was a superstar, taking it all in his stride and feeling very important. He especially liked the clapping! While we still have a long way to go I am confident that I have picked a horse who will cope well in any situation so we will keep plugging away!

For now we have 1 more show next weekend and then it’s time for a holiday while winter takes hold, and I am booked in for some minor surgery on my feet. Brian will enjoy his break while I go stir crazy until I am allowed to ride again! I’d like to thank my wonderful sponsors once again for supporting me and my team this season, CourierPost, Rojaan Performance Horses – Kerrits Performance Apparel, DB Muscle Therapy, Head 2 Toe Studio, Willowhip NZ, Betavet Equine Herbals, Tasman Ag, Circle M Quarter Horses & Parafed Canterbury. We couldn’t do it without you all and are very proud to represent you all!

Stay warm and safe!

Anthea & Brian



Highs, lows & big decisions

Posted by Anthea Gunner on February 27, 2015 at 3:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Happy New Year to you all, although it’s February already!

My year finished with a small local competition, Brian’s debut and Mask’s first time out since March 2014! Brian was a very good boy, perfectly behaved and even got a ribbon.

Mask was a complete turd, either not wanting to share the limelight with Brian, or still scared of the bogeyman in the hedge next to the arena, which was a real shame as when he did behave he was very good! I think he can go out on his own next time.

I had a lovely relaxing break at Christmas, pottering about in the garden and riding the horses, I think the longest break I have had that was not for a Horse Show since I was at school. I was certainly refreshed! I also enjoyed 2 weddings, that of my sister high in the mountains behind Kaikoura, and my good friend Camille in sunny Nelson.

Late January bought some challenges, and the South Island Festival of Dressage where we were running Para Equestrian classes alongside the Dressage event. It’s always great to be included in these competitions, as they provide a good atmosphere for the horses that you don’t get at the smaller local shows.

We had my coach from Australia Mary Longden visit at this time, so Brian drew the short straw for 2 lessons and impressed Mary with his laid back nature and potential for the future. I was really pleased with him, he stayed away at a friends place and was as good as gold.

I had both Brian & Mask entered in the show, and both had been progressing well until things went a little pearshaped, not least Brian I think trying to rub his plaits out on the front fence where he managed to break a wire and it ended up whipping round his legs. Fortunately nothing major but very disappointing and instead of going to the show he got to see the vet and had 3 needles stuck in him. He is fine now and sound but if anyone needs a kidney, I have one for sale to help pay the vet bill!

Mask competed at the show and was very good after a pretty disrupted build up to finish 2nd place in both of his tests, he especially enjoyed doing his musical freestyle in the main arena complete with flower pots and in front of all the trade marquees! He does love an occasion that one.


It was a positive end to a trying week, and I am now training hard and looking forward to our next competition, the Dressage & Para Equestrian National Championships in Feilding at the start of March.

The same week I received the exciting news that I have been named a finalist in the Sportsperson with a Disability category at the upcoming Marriots Hadlee Canterbury Sports Awards. Unfortunately I will be in Feilding so am unable to attend, but fingers will be crossed!

It was around this time that I started thinking more seriously about what I want to achieve as an athlete over the coming years, and what I needed to do to be able to make these aspirations happen. The biggest thing is horsepower for me, with more and more the top international combinations riding professionally trained horses that our top able bodied dressage riders would give their eye teeth for.

After London I made the call that Mask would not do any more international competitions, because he just physically wasn’t the type of horse I need to be on the podium. When it costs that much money to compete at the top level, you want to aim to do it properly! We have continued on at home, and with my experiences with Don really pushing my boundaries I feel that I am ready to progress onto a more purpose bred dressage horse.

Brian may or may not be that horse, but I know that Mask isn’t, and as much as it breaks my heart, I have made the decision to find him a new home, where he can have fun and lots more variety. He has by far exceeded all of my expectations of him and deserves to enjoy himself for the future.

Nationals will most likely be our last major event together so I’ll be working hard to ensure that we go out with a bang and on a high.

Till next time…



Onwards and Upwards & New Beginnings

Posted by Anthea Gunner on November 29, 2014 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Life has been a little bit crazy and a bit of a blur since returning to NZ at the start of September. I actually don’t know where the past 3 months has gone! I think it has perhaps blown past in the wind 

Mask has come back in to work slowly, and after ride #3 he decided he would just do what I was asking so that was great! We finally have the canter sorted and are ready to go and compete in able bodied classes now – in fact we would have done one show already except for the blasted wind that has absolutely nailed us lately. Mask was I think spooked by something in the exceptionally strong nor’west winds and was lame the day before our first show back. Fortunately it was just a minor tweak and he was back to his usual self 2 days later but sadly we missed the show.

He now has to wait until the 21st December to go out and show how much he has improved!

Also during October I stumbled across an ad on Trade Me that caught my eye. A few weeks later after a quick trip to Blenheim for a test drive there was a big brown horse in my paddock. He was rechristened as Brian (because according to Aaron 'Breeze' wasn’t manly enough) and is such a lovely bloke – just like a big cuddly dog and he has taken to being a ‘para’ horse like a duck to water.

Brian is a 10yr old gelding, 16.1hh (so about 4 inches taller than Mask at the wither) and is a Holsteiner x Thoroughbred by the great Littorio. He has spent most of his time jumping and has a lot to learn before becoming a dressage star but with such a lovely temperament we have every chance of this happening. It’s a longer term project with Brian, so I don’t have a firm competition plan yet, we will take however long it takes for him to understand me and what I am asking him to do.

It is exciting to have a new project to start and it was also exciting at the recent Parafed Canterbury Annual Awards to be named as Supreme Senior Sportsperson of the Year! I was very surprised to say the least!!! It was a really proud moment and great to be recognised for the massive effort and dedication, not to mention the improvement that I had made in the past 2 years. We now have a big trophy on the mantelpiece, and I had better invest in some Silvo to keep it looking good 

I was also awarded an Elite Sports Scholarship which will hopefully go a long way towards getting Mask & I to Feilding for the Para & Dressage Nationals in March. Christmas is just around the corner (which I am still in complete denial about) but first we will compete with Mask. Stay tuned for an update on how that goes!

Till next time



Brian & Mask - in their super flash sponsored boots by Willowhip NZ :)


WEG wrap up

Posted by Anthea Gunner on September 7, 2014 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Wrapping up from WEG

Well I am home now, trying hard to stay awake instead of crashing on the couch at 7pm! Our WEG journey is over and it’s time to rest, recover and regroup and see what the future holds.

Monday in Caen bought rain, rain and more rain, at one point we were worried that the stable block would flood, and had to make an emergency mission to the games village for waterproof jackets and gumboots. I rode, and got absolutely soaked – it’s always those days when you ride like a muppet! It turned out that it was the most rain in the area since 1955 which was just our luck. Fortunately the stables were ok but there were some nervous moments!

I spent Monday afternoon getting dry and getting into the zone for my test on Tuesday, analysing my tests and trying to remember stride by stride what I needed to do. It worked well as I was feeling good on Tuesday, the weather was a vast improvement and we warmed up well, although it was tough to stay focused with cameras from all angles. By the time we got to the arena we were ok and I was overall pleased with my test. I made some errors with my accuracy and had a couple of wobbles but the judges liked it and we finished 7th= on 67.914% which is very close to a PB for that test.

Of course the only rain shower of the day decided to turn up half way through but I didn’t even notice and Don and I trooped on. It was great to see some kiwis in the crowd including my family and I had a lot of comments about how Don was so much more stunning in the flesh – and he is pretty stunning in the photos! I knew that already of course.

Wednesday we decided that I would train early and then Don would have a decent break before my test on Thursday. At least the sun was out and I was improving! It’s very hard to factor in how you are going to feel at these events, I didn’t feel nervous but was struggling with basic things which you can only really account for as nerves. Often it is as much about training the mind as the body!

I made a particularly big faux par that day – or realised I had at least! It was an awful moment – when someone mentioned the date (it was the 27th) and I realised, with quite some horror, that I had completely forgotten about Aaron’s birthday (on the 26th). After remembering the past 15 birthdays I forget the 1st one since getting married! I guess I did have a good excuse being in full focus for my test, but even afterward I didn’t click. I have some serious making up to do although I suspect that Aaron will dine out on that one for a long time!

I also went for a tiki tour to the Endurance venue at Avranches for the veterinary inspection. It was a lovely glimpse of the Normandy countryside, and nice to see our Endurance team and their horses! I also got to see the very impressive ‘ marquee’ belonging to Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum from UAE taking pride of place overseeing the main area where the vetting is done and complete with chandeliers and burly security guards. It was much more impressive than the regular marquee for the rest of the national federations! He and his son (also competing for UAE) were helicoptered in and out each day – oh how the other half live!

My test (the individual Championship and the first medal event) on Thursday was quite late in the day, which allowed for a bit of a sleep in, I then had my wonderful sponsor and friend Debbie Rolmanis come and see me for some stretching and making sure that my body was in as good a shape as possible. I spent some time watching some of the other tests and felt positive about what I had to do. It’s all about the details and holding my reins!!

Don felt superb, and our warm up was the best ride we have ever had. Of course the challenge is keeping that feeling right to the end of the test! It was much better than the Team Test on Tuesday, my accuracy was much better and despite an uncharacteristic spook in the middle of one walk circle my reins were better and we went for it. However in a subjective sport it doesn’t always go your way and despite very encouraging and positive comments, one judge had us on 62% which bought our overall % down and we finished on 66% and 10th place and missing out of the final Freestyle event.

I was very disappointed at the score but not at my ride, I have improved so much since London, and while there is always more that can be done I can only be proud of that improvement, and Don of course was a super star. So our campaign came to a close a day early.

I spent Friday watching the Freestyle tests, and I knew that we could have been competitive had we made the cut! It was really good to sit and watch and learn, and admire the stunning performances that were made across all of the Para grades. The standard really has improved considerably even since London and the trick will be keeping tabs on that and keeping up!

Bella, Jess and Jen spent the afternoon at the Dressage Musical Freestyle – Jess garnering a few more photos with the dressage stars (once we pointed them out!), we had Don basically packed and ready to head home on Saturday morning and made time for a bit of last minute shopping, even though I had no room in my suitcase. After a nice dinner on Friday night it was my job to get packed, and fitting everything in my suitcase without going over 32kg was a mission! At about midnight I had made it.

Saturday morning we headed to the stables early to get Don and Bella on their way home, it turned out there was a bit of a miscommunication, we were told we were loading up at 8am, and in reality we were actually leaving at 10am so had quite a lot of time to wait, and in the end Jen, Jess and I had to leave Bella and Don as we would have missed our shuttle to Paris.

Or so we thought anyway – the shuttle arrived, and we dragged all our bags out only to discover that our gear didn’t fit and they still had someone to collect! So we changed to a later shuttle, and spent the day in my hotel room watching the Eventing cross country unfold on my laptop. We sat in disbelief as one by one combinations from all over the world were eliminated or retired. The conditions were really taking their toll and turning what was already a significant test into a slog fest. We were very happy to see Jonelle Richards finally put a score on the board for the Kiwi team before our shuttle bus arrived (only an hour & a half later than the rescheduled time of 2pm!). We bussed to Paris with the Danish team and some of the Swedish coaches, and 3 hours later we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport which looked from where I sat as the most confusing airport I have ever seen – and that was just driving in!

So much for our afternoon sightseeing in Paris – we had to settle for seeing the top half of the Eiffel Tower from the bus. We checked into the Pullman Hotel at the airport and after a very nice meal, heads hit the pillow – all very ready to be home. We had plenty of time in the morning to get to the airport – the only excitement was when I was trying to get out of the shuttle bus and the French speaking driver, who was trying to be helpful, failed miserably and he bloody near dropped me as he refused to listen to my instructions – French arrogance I suppose!!

It was nice to be on the plane although I wasn’t looking forward to 2 long flights again as I had picked up another cold . Our 13 hour stopover in Singapore went very quickly as we slept for most of it, leaving only time for a little duty free shopping (me at the M & M store for Aaron), a meal at the Hard Rock Café and then off on a marathon to the gate (probably the furtherist point of the airport from our hotel).

Sleep was not forthcoming until 45 minutes from Christchurch, and the flight was fairly smooth, only a little drama coming when an old lady was sleepwalking and collapsed in the aisle about 2 ½ hours from home. I believe she was ok fortunately! I was then stuck at the back of the immigration queue (cursing the lack of accessibility in the smart gates!) and then at the back of the quarantine queue. It took us over an hour to get out! It was very nice to see Aaron and to get home to my boys.

I would like to extend a massive thanks to my support team for WEG, Jessy, Jen, Debbie, Bella and Warrick - the best team a girl could wish for - thanks for taking care of everything and making my job so much easier :)

It really has been an incredible journey since London, and one that would not have been possible without the support of my family, friends, supporters and by wonderful team of sponsors. In particular, Bates Saddles (for where would I be without a saddle to sit in!!), CourierPost (who could quite easily have said no to my many leave requests!), Head 2 Toe Studio Massage Therapy (who keep me functioning and fix me when I get home), Debbie Rolmanis – DB Muscle Therapy (who is a key member of Team Gundog at the big shows – horse and rider massage, biomechanic advice and support and finder of white gloves at the last minute!), Kerrits Performance Equestrian Apparel (for making sure we look the part), Tasman Agriculture and Circle M Quarter Horses who keep the wheels turning. I am enormously indebted to all of you for supporting me on my journey. And a massive thank you to all who supported our campaign with donations – it has been hugely appreciated!

I also wouldn’t be at this point of my life without the support and belief from the fabulous Hayley Beresford – there should be more wines drunk at the Greenwich Tavern – this great idea turned into the most incredible life and learning journey. To meet Don and Bella, and to be part of Team HB has been simply amazing. Thank you Hayley for making me so welcome, opening the doors of your stable and letting me learn. It has been an incredible experience and one that I am enormously grateful for and will never forget. And I hope to be back!

And finally a massive thank you to Bella and her superstar Don. Without them I would still be thinking of what if. Mask can tell you how much these two have taught me, and he doesn’t know the half of it. I am hugely in debt to Bella and massively grateful to have been entrusted with her wonderful Don. He is such a lovely boy, and one that I miss dearly every time I leave Germany. I feel very privileged to have been able to ride him and proud of what we have achieved for New Zealand. It has been a massive step up from London, even if I still have much to learn and improve.

From here it’s time to rest and recover and drag Mask back in to work for the summer season. Don heads to the much deserved retirement paddock, although I am still hoping that lotto comes through and that paddock can be at my place in NZ! As for Rio and onwards? Who knows! I need to find a nice young horse to take me there first. What will be, will be.

Thanks again for all of the support – we are very proud to wear the silver fern!

And a big thank you to Libby Law Photography, Sarah Aldermann from Kampic and Diana Dobson - the Black Balloon for the lovely photos.




Day 3 WEG - nearly business time

Posted by Anthea Gunner on September 6, 2014 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (0)

WEG diary day 3: Not quite sure where the past 2 days have gone, it’s been really busy! Don has settled in really well, lapping it all up. We had a training session early on Saturday - it was a little tough for me as I was still tired and stiff from the travel but I got there eventually, and Don felt superb.

We spent some time watching the other nations train, and also managed a quick nosey in the main games village – its going to take some time to get round all the shops. We also had the chance for Don to be ridden in the competition arena for familiarisation, and just finished before the heavens opened and we got soaked!

We also picked up our ‘Para team’ car, which was provided by the organising committee. Now there were options – a van big enough for wheelchairs for teams or a car for those with individual riders. Now being the only rider I didn’t expect a huge vehicle but we have a 2 door Fiat Bambina. Don’t get me wrong it’s a really cool car with cream leather seats even, but for fitting support team of 4 (and more to come) plus a wheelchair…. UMMMM interesting would be a good word.

So the verdict was the boot will fit 1 of my wheels. Jen and Jess had to get in the back and hold the frame of my chair over the back of the seat and I had the other wheel on my lap. Given my knees were around my ears it was a good thing that we don’t have far to go. It also sounds as hilarious as it looks as it takes a lot of revs to get started! Every set of lights we stopped at we got stares. At least we are entertaining the locals.

Today ( Sunday) was our free day - it’s really important that we have a chance to rest otherwise we will get half way through the week and all be knackered – just when the medals are up for grabs! We had the horse inspection this morning which sent us all into heart failure when they announced that they were running an hour early and wanted us in 20 minutes. When you have to present your horse immaculately and you lose an hour of your carefully planned schedule it’s not much fun but Bella is a super quick and good plaiter and Don was beautifully turned out – thanks team!! He passed with no problems which is one sigh of relief.

And finally the opening ceremony – what a huge privilege it was to be asked to be at the front holding the NZ sign with Endurance rider Andrea Smith. And super cool to be heading around the stadium with all the kiwis cheering! It was great to meet our Endurance team who made the long trip from their base to attend – what a great bunch. And super cool also to see the Dressage superstars (probably those from other sports too but not that I could tell!) – a team shot with Dressage legend Anky van Grunsven who is coaching a rider from Morocco, and all the superstars including Edward Gal, Hans Peter Minderhoud, Adelinde Cornelisson & Steffen Peters!

I had great seats just below the VIP area for the show – the highlight being the man with what appeared to be a herd of wild horses – and then he turns up standing on the back of two of them (one leg on each horse!) Turns out these ‘wild’ horses are more obedient than my gorgeous dogs at home! All coming when they are called, lining up and galloping around together under the spotlights with 20,000 peope cheering!

We have training again tomorrow and my first event starts on Tuesday – my ride time is 1.38pm Caen time so keep an eye on ESNZ’s facebook and website for results or check out the Normandy 2014 website. I’ll try and do another update then!





And we are in

Posted by Anthea Gunner on September 6, 2014 at 4:15 AM Comments comments (0)

And we are in! Big day travelling for us all, Don and Jen arrived bright and early this morning and are well settled in - loving the Team NZ decorations at his stable :) Don thinks it is all just awesome - he is super calm and relaxed and had a short session with Bella tonight to limber him up after the trip.

Bella, Jess and I left early from Stuttgart this morning on the TGV train. Seems there are more perks to being in a chair - first class seats for me! It was super comfy and was nice to have a good view of the French countryside - all be it a bit blurry as we were travelling up to 320kmph.

Paris was an adventure - a bit of a gamble on the traffic paid off and a taxi gave us a short tour from Paris Est to Saint Lazare station where we had to catch our next train to Caen. The other option was the Metro train ( a bit like the tube in London) and it seemed very complicated. Fortunately the traffic was good and we met the train no problem.

Paris was beautiful - gorgeous architecture and I love all the wrought iron balconies. Hopefully we have a chance to look round the sights before we fly home. The train to Caen was a couple of hours, and we were met by the lovely Diana Dobson (ESNZ Media Liaison) at the other end. A short few minutes in the car to the racecourse and it all became very real.

The venue looks lovely, not on as big a scale as London but the facilities are good and Don is happy which is the main thing. Most of the Para horses arrived today which was a massive operation managing 100 horses coming in!

We are stabled next to Australia so Don and Bella have a little bit of Aussie for comfort - not that they need it as both are keen Kiwis :)

Tomorrow we have an early start to train, then ridden arena familiarisation early afternoon and the opening ceremony in the evening - its going to be a big day but I can't wait!