Anthea Gunner, Para Equestrian Paralympian


Blog - Journey to London

Mosquitoes and Man Flu at Manfield

Posted by Anthea Gunner on February 22, 2018 at 8:15 PM

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.




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