Para-equestrian WEG hopeful seeks new horse

November 25, 2008


Christine Lawn rides Dart, a 22-year-old 13.3hh mare, at the Australian RDA 2008 National Dressage Championships in Werribee, Victoria, last month.

A Canterbury Para-equestrian rider is seeking a dressage horse who she hopes will ultimately help her qualify for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.

The horse that Ashburton para-equestrian Christine Lawn had been riding was injured and has been retired, and the hunt is now on for a new horse.

Lawn is classified as a Grade Ib rider, having been confined to a wheelchair since a race-day fall in 2002. She is looking for a horse who is around the Novice-Elementary level.

The para-equestrian system has five grades, ranging from Grade Ia for the most severely impaired riders, to Grade IV for the least impaired. Horses suitable for paralympic riders such as Lawn need some special attributes. It goes without saying a rock-solid temperament is vital. And as in all dressage horses, good movement would be a blessing, but a para-equestrian horse must have an exceptional walk and a great trot.

"I need a horse that's got a good walk. At my level we're suppoed to perform miracles at the walk," Lawn said. Depending on the grade, para tests can include the entire range of "walk" - ordinary, medium, collected and extended.

"In some tests we're allowed lateral work, although in Grade Ib we're not allowed to canter. What we can do, we have to make look pretty good."


NZ team members Christine Lawn and Anthea Gunner in Werribee.
Lawn reckons the ideal size for a horse would be anything from park hack size to about 16hh - in other words, a horse she can mount without too much assistance. As for performance, Lawn's coach, Kate Honour, says that the ideal horse would be a well-schooled seven to 15-year-old with a proven competition background, and who has scored more than 60% at level 2 (novice). The horse needs to be resonably priced, Honour says, although they'd also consider a lease.

The horse also has to be able to cope with music, as riders do a freestyle test as part of their competition. Paddy, Lawn's previous mount, wasn't too keen on music, she said.

Lawn is hoping to be part of the New Zealand team to go to Werribee next year, and from there to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

She says New Zealand's chances of making it to the WEG are very good, with a talented, young team of riders coming on. Several Kiwi para riders, including Lawn, performed creditably to take several placings on borrowed horses at the Australian RDA 2008 National Dressage Championships recently. Team sponsorship for New Zealand's para riders is also being sought.


Five of the Kiwi team members at Werribee, from left at back - Jenny Affleck, Frances Dick and Jo Jackson; at front is Christine Lawn, left, and Anthea Gunner. Absent from the picture is Kelly Gabbott.
Getting back to riding was at first a gradual process for Lawn, who has been a keen rider from an early age. The hardest thing, she said, was regaining balance again. "I found that quite a challenge," she said.

"They took things slowly at the RDA - full credit to them for getting me back in the saddle. I was also lucky that Jenny Lott took an interest in me a couple of years ago," Lawn said. "Jenny has done a lot for me - instructed me, taken me to competitions, plaited my horse, and helped me get on, and so on. I can't do much myself."

Para-equestrian sports are growing in popularity, and in 1996 the Atlanta Paralympic Games hosted equestrian events for the first time. In 2006 Para-equestrian riding and driving became the eighth FEI sanctioned discipline, having previously been run under the auspices of the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee (IPEC).

World Championship competitions are held internationally for dressage and driving, and there is also a movement in Britain for para-showjumping to be included at the 2012 Olympic Games.