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Horse-power and dedication

1st August 2023

In the third of her follow-up blogs Paralympic Dressage hopeful Diana Man introduces us to the most important member of the team – her horse Horatio, or Tio for short, and the dedication they both share for achieving their goal.

Diana Man para dressage rider

“My horse is called Horatio, but we call him Tio. He is an 11-year-old warmblood, so bred to do Dressage.

He is chestnut and very handsome, which he knows! He is 16.3 hands high, which is quite tall, but he knows how to hold himself together, which helps when riding a horse that size.

“He has also been well trained since he was a young horse, which means all his basics are well established. He always tries really hard in his work, which makes riding him great fun.

“However, he can get a little anxious which is something we are always trying to bear in mind. The better we get to know each other the better we will be able to manage this.

Meant to be

“He and I were meant to be as we both have the same neurological disorder! In humans it’s called myoclonus, whereas in horses it’s called shivering. Either way, we both get involuntary muscle spasms. Fortunately, I can medicate and it does not affect him when he’s being ridden.

“Tio always gets apples or carrots after he’s worked, which he loves. He is less keen on mints but will eat them if that’s all that’s on offer. However, his favourite is to steal the grooms’ biscuits!

“One horse is enough, but having two would be better. I am on a very steep learning curve and having more time in the saddle would help me learn more quickly. The other downside to only having one horse is that it puts all your eggs into the one basket. It’s so important to keep Tio fit and healthy. Having only the one horse means that if he were to pick up an injury I would be left with nothing to ride.”

Strong communication

Dressage clearly requires strong communication between rider and horse and because of her prosthetic legs Diana has some difficulty in ‘squeezing’ Tio to let him know what she wants him to do. But she’s able to get her message across and Tio is a good learner.

“In very basic terms, I use my seat and my legs in order to ask for more impulsion and my seat and my rein to control that impulsion. When I use my leg, I have to swing it out to achieve more of a kicking motion.

“I also carry a stick. I am fortunate that Tio responds very well if I just touch him with this so I can use that to back up my leg aid. The idea is that the horse goes forward on his own so aids are to balance and contain that forward energy and to tell the horse what you want next. I use my voice when I am training him, but this is not allowed in competition.

Time off to relax

“I normally ride Tio four or five times a week for half an hour. When I ride my coach is normally there to teach me, so he is constantly improving what I am doing. It is good for Tio for my trainer to ride him on a weekly basis as well and he obviously also needs a day off to relax.

“In an ideal world, I would be riding a lot more often than this in order to get more practice. However, it is unfair to overwork the horse. When I am not riding, I spend a lot of time thinking about my previous lesson and what my goals are going to be for my next lesson and how I’m going to achieve them. I have found this the best substitute for me for more riding.

“I am clearly very dedicated towards my training and trying to achieve the goal I’ve set myself of competing at the Paralympics. I did not have a horse for about 18 months and enjoyed the break from riding for a while. I had plenty of time and plenty of money for the first time in my life. It was extraordinary!

Rather have no spare time and no spare money

“However, after a year or so I realised I would rather have no spare time and no spare money, but instead have a horse again. It was great to have this time off as it gave me the opportunity to really think about how much I wanted to give it another go.

Diana Man

“Owning a horse and keeping him in full training livery is extremely expensive. In order to afford this, I have to work very hard. I am a private maths tutor, and really think about any money I spend and whether it is necessary to do so.

“The facilities at the yard where I keep my horse are fantastic. I therefore have everything I need for his daily care and training provided at the yard. Though, of course, I pay a lot of money for him to be there.

Never-ending list

“There seems to be a never-ending list of equipment that I require, both just for riding and specifically for my needs. I have just had to buy a new set of competition kit as I have not completed in many years. At the moment, the list of equipment seems to be never-ending, but I hope this is just because Tio is still a fairly new horse and in time this will settle.

“As well as the money I also need to dedicate a huge amount of time to this goal. It is over a three hour round trip each time I go riding. This is because there are not that many specialist dressage yards, so I have to travel a fair distance to get to my horse. I am very lucky that my teaching hours are evenings and Saturdays which gives me the time during the day to enable me to ride.

“If I go to a competition it would often take up most of the day, but it is totally worth it!”

Read the earlier blogs about Diana’s meningitis story; the sport of Dressage and what it involves; and her journey to the cusp of selection for next year’s Paris Paralympics. If you’re able to help or sponsor Diana’s bid to represent Great Britain at the Paris Paralympics please do get in touch. We’re doing our bit at Meningitis Now by awarding her a Rebuilding Futures Fund award towards a specialist saddle for her horse Tio. If you can help, in the first instance please email diana@dianaman.com.

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