Anthea Gunner, Para Equestrian Paralympian


Brian's Journey

In October 2014 I found Brian (On Twilight) and we started a new journey together. Follow his progress here.

February 2018

Well I’ve been very slack with updates but Brian and I keep chugging along, taking our time and trying to get things working in the right way. He continues to be a darling to handle and is becoming more and more comfortable in his body.

It’s always been a struggle to get him more connected and working through his back but recently we have cracked this big rock and are slowly becoming more consistent and as such his strength is improving and muscle is building in the right places! He can still get a little nervous in the arena for a test so the coming months are going to be spent on test riding and by next season he should be bored with it all!

I am so proud with the results of our recent trip to the NZ National Champs where we won all 3 tests and were National Champions. He is still very new to that level of test – the FEI Team, Championship and Freestyle tests are what is ridden at the Paralympics – and he is coping with all the movements fairly well, we just need to improve the overall quality of the work and consistency throughout the test. He has now done 2 musicals and the music doesn’t bother him at all which is great!

Looking forward to continuing on our journey this winter!

January 2016

I'm pleased to say it seems the penny has finally dropped for Brian and he is slowly getting the hang of this dressage business. For a while there i was wondering if he would ever get it. It seems so simple but habits of a lifetime are hard to break and are the first thing to revert to when things get hard or confusing!

Still he is coming along leaps and bounds, being round is no longer a foreign concept and neither is going forward. We are still working hard to develop more suppleness and a better contact and all of that good stuff but we are making progress which is the most important part.

We have been out to a few small shows, proving that when its good the judges will give the good marks, consistency is the key and me being disciplined about riding well. 

He continues to show his personality, most disturbing that he feels the need to hang it all out every time we put his rug on! He is camp leader at the river, loving his rides out and is now able to do carrot stretches on his own. Anything for a bribe. He is really part of the family and we are looking forward to the South Island Festival of Dressage at the end of January. It will be his first big show test, and i'm sure he will go well.

August 2015

It's times like winter where i really appreciate having a brown horse and not being able to tell how dirty he really is!! Although he is resembling a woolly yak at the moment and looking forward to a haircut this week.

Brian is slowly coming back into work after a 5 week holiday, with lots of lunging in the programme because a) it doesn't take as long as a ride on those cold short daylight hours after work and b) its much easier for him to learn to stretch properly without having to worry about me flopping around on his back.

It's been going well and he is really enjoying getting to do poles as well, less so the lunging and being straight as that's hard work! Still I can feel the difference under saddle and working hard on keeping the straightness while working on improving my wonkieness...

We are looking forward to visits from Debbie & Joy to ensure that he is physically in the best shape possible to push on and work towards some competitions later next month. At least the days are getting longer although not a lot warmer at the moment.

He continues to be a complete gentleman in every way and enjoys having his neck massaged and thinks carrot stretches are the best idea ever! I'm looking forward to taking him out to the river for more hacking soon too!

April 2015

After bodywork from Dr Joy White (Chiropractic) and massage from Debbie Rolmanis, we are really starting to make some headway with Brian and his consistency in a round outline. There was quite a bit of work to do to free him up, especially through his wither and he is now much more comfortable and willing to take the rein forward in a nice way.

I have been concentrating on straightness and keeping the contact even, which is also helping encourage him into a correct outline and carrying himself too which is always good. He is much more purposeful and starting to lift his back and swing in the walk and now starting in the trot which feels super, really getting my abs to burn in that satisfying way that Don taught me. We have also started to get his back legs more connected but still working on keeping him steady and relaxed in the connection to the bit and his head steadier. 

I'm really pleased though, he just gives me a wee tidbit of what is possible which keeps me motivated! We competed again at Canterbury Dressage mid April,  and while the work in the arena was not as good as I had hoped, he showed some nice work in the warm up and also was perfectly behaved in horrendous wind in the afternoon. I also learnt a bit more about him, and that perhaps a lunch feed might pep him up for the afternoon test!! Lots to learn but we are having fun and enjoying each other.

Now just to get him to stand still to get his rugs changed like he does to be clipped!

February 2015

 Its been busy juggling both Mask and Brian leading up to our major show in the South, the South Island Festival of Dressage, incorporating the Para Dressage Championships. 

Brian has been coming along well, still needing to be more stable in the contact and supple over his back, but as ever always improving so I have to be happy with that. We had a couple of lessons with para guru Mary Longden and she was most complementary on Brian and his potential. She always complements the work I do with Nicki Ford locally and I always learn or remember something helpful.

Brian was supposed to compete at the SI Champs in the Para Novice section, however after I think rubbing his plaits out on the fence ended up staying at home after part of the fence gave way and cut his legs. He was very lucky it wasn't much worse. It wasn't the end of the world though, as he was not as ready as i would have liked t compete. 

We have been back to the river a couple more times which is a really nice way for us both to freshen the mind, and we are lucky that there are safe tracks there horses can go.  

December 2014

 Two months on and we are still making progress! One of the quirks with Brian is when you first start off warming up, he likes to muck round and not go forward, its taken me a while to carefully encourage him to go with some purpose and now his mucking round is for 1 circle not 15 minutes! He is also much happier in the contact and starting to go more energetically. 

Thanks to my wonderful sponsor Debbie Rolmanis of DB Muscle Therapy who has been working on his body, trying to encourage him to round and stretch rather than hold himself hollow. Its been a real test of my abs to stay there and push on when he is trotting with his back hollow rather than round but he is improving a lot and getting the hang of my expectations. We are still only taking baby steps, but have also tackled riding out at the river which he loved, and so did I!

We also attended our first dressage day, at North Loburn Equestrian Centre. Just a baby test to see how he would behave and he was great, while the actual work in the arena has a long way to go its a big boost for the confidence to know that he will be good when he is out!

October 2014

I've been looking for a new equine partner for a while, to help me progress further on my journey as a rider. It is a hard road to find the perfect horse and for me especially as my 'must have' list is quite specific.

Brian caught my eye, having spent most of his life until that point jumping, I am still not really sure what drew me to his advertisement. Its not like i was looking for a jumper! However what Brian perhaps lacked in Dressage prowess, he more than made up for it with his fabulous ground manners and temperament. 

After a quick trip to Blenheim, and a test drive, I was pretty sure we could make a go of things together. For me the most important part was a horse with potential, who was not worried about my whips, wheelchair or wacky spasms, and who coped with what I was trying to communicate with him in a positive way - thinking and trying rather than saying bugger off.

He arrived a week later, and we started getting to know each other. It took time for him to understand what I wanted, what the whips meant (not a punishment but an aid), and what my expectations were of him especially under saddle.

Its been a slow process but one that I am committed to doing properly, no shortcuts!  Each day he improves and that is all I can ask. Whether he makes it to the international stage or not, I am very much looking forward to testing my knowledge and riding skills, and hopefully retraining him as a dressage horse. Follow our journey!



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