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Making the right moves to realise a dressage dream

27th July 2023

In the second of her follow-up blogs, Diana Man, who hopes to represent the Great Britain team in Para Dressage at the 2024 Paralympic Games, tells us more about her journey to Paris, what it entails and some of the sacrifices she has to make along the way

Diana Man para dressage rider

Diana contracted meningitis some 20 years ago in her mid 20s, leading to lower leg amputations of both legs and all the fingers on her right hand.

“To compete in a para dressage competition all athletes need to have been graded. This involves being assessed by a team of physios, who establish what impact their disability has upon their functional ability to ride a horse.

“There are only five grades, l-V, that cover all disabilities. I is the most disabled. Riders in this grade only walk. V is the least disabled. Riders in this grade have only minor disabilities. As I’m sure you can imagine each of these grades therefore covers a broad spectrum of different disabilities. I am grade IV.

“Final selection for the Paris Paralympics will take place in July 2024. The first step for me is to get good results at the local qualifying classes. This will then enable me to compete at the national championships and in international competitions. These are the results the selectors will take into account when making their decision.

Biggest challenge

“My biggest challenge at the moment is my relative inexperience as a combination with my horse. Separately, we have both competed at the required level. However, I have only owned him since last September and I then had surgery on my wrist, so was off riding for two months in the autumn.

“We are therefore still a very new combination and our main priority at the moment is building our partnership. As this gets stronger our focus will be on perfecting all of the required movements at home and then being able to put them all together and perform to the best of our ability at the major competitions. Clearly I need to do this while making sure I keep my horse fit and healthy.

“Traditionally, Great Britain has a very strong record in para dressage competitions. Competition is always therefore very tough to get onto the team. However, in recent years, many other countries have really improved, so we no longer lead the way. The riders on our British team have remained largely unchanged for the last 10 years, but the next group of riders are getting closer and closer to them and are starting to really push for places on the team.

Prompt a shake-up

“Last year at the world championships was the first time Great Britain did not win a team medal in the para dressage. It is my hope and belief this will create a bit of a shake up and prompt the selectors to give somebody new the opportunity to show what they can do. There are lots of riders hoping this will be them.

“I started competing in February and have been to a few able-bodied shows as dress rehearsals before I go to any para qualifiers. Things have gone extremely well.

“At the first competition I had no idea what to expect from my horse, so just wanted to gently ride around the tests and use the experience to get to know each other better. Despite this, we still managed to come second in one of the tests and scored two very respectable scores.

Diana Man

Won one of the classes

“Since then we have won a few classes and our scores have been steadily increasing. I have been very pleased both with how we have performed at these competitions, and with what I have learnt from going to them.

“My first Para qualifiers will be later this month and into the beginning of May. I will gain points according to the percentage scores I achieve. My aim is to earn enough points to qualify for what is known as the Festival of Para Dressage in June and then I’m hoping to go to my first international in July.

“However, my main target for this year remains to form a really strong partnership with my horse. I hope this will enable us to compete and do well and get onto the selectors’ radar and therefore be asked to join the National Lottery funded Performance Pathway.

“After the competitions in June and July there is a national championship and another International in September and October that I will be aiming for. In 2024, if I am going to achieve selection for the Paralympics in Paris, I will need to be upping my game further and not just aiming to compete to gain experience but aiming to win. The first major competition of the year will be the Winter Championships, which will be next February. After that I expect to aim for a couple of internationals, but the most important thing will be to continue to show excellent form throughout the spring until the final trial in July 2024.

Expenses continue to rise

“I am fortunate to live near a great coach with great facilities. I believe I have all the basics in place to achieve my goal. The biggest challenge that faces me is being able to continue to afford to keep this set up going. As I start going to more competitions, expenses will continue to rise and things like holidays and other non-essentials will have to be sacrificed along the way – I simply can’t afford to do both!

“As with any elite sports, there are also other additional areas where it would be fantastic to be getting support for myself and my horse. This includes areas such as physio and psychology. As it stands, I am unable to afford these extra luxuries that really can make all the difference. If anyone is keen to help and support me achieve my goal the best way to do this would be through fundraising or sponsorship, or possibly even wanting to commit to part ownership of the horse.

“There are so many people who have helped me and supported me with my riding, and in general since I contracted meningitis in 2007. However, the main person I would like to thank, as I owe so much to her, is my mum. The hours she spent when I was growing up looking after little muddy ponies, then bigger muddy horses, were endless. This support has never wavered.”

Read Diana’s meningitis story and what’s involved in the sport of dressage Look out too for her next blog, in which she will tell us about her partner in this Parisian adventure, her horse Tio.

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.