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Realising a dressage dream – a step at a time

14th July 2023

We recently brought you Diana’s meningitis story and her dream of representing Great Britain in Para Dressage at the 2024 Paralympic Games

Diana Man para dressage rider

Now, over the course of three further blogs, she tells us more about what’s involved in her sport of dressage, why she does it and what it will take for her to reach the top as a potential Paralympic performer (plus all about her horse Horatio, Tio for short, and his biscuit-stealing antics).

In the first of these follows-ups Diana, who 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, talks about her sport of Dressage and how equipment adaptations support her on the path to Paris.

“Dressage is a discipline in itself. At the level I would be required to ride at, for the para competitions, the tests will include walk, trot and canter. I am also expected to be able to make my horse step backwards, rein-back, as well as move sideways, shoulder-in.

“I also have to show different levels of collection within each pace, for example, both collected and medium trot, both collected and extended walk, both collected and medium canter. I am fortunate enough that my horse already knows how to do these things and I have done them all before on previous horses as well.

“Therefore, the main challenge and focus of our training is getting to know each other so that we can perform as a partnership as well as we possibly can. Each dressage test lasts about 5 1/2 minutes.

Dancing horses

“At a major competition or championship, including the Paralympics, I would ride three tests on separate days. The first two tests are compulsory tests and have a set floor plan to follow. Each rider rides the same test. Each movement within the test is marked out of 10. These marks are then collected together to give a percentage score. The person with the highest percentage wins.

“The third test is what is known as a freestyle to music test. There are certain compulsory movements which must be performed, but each competitor can design their own floor plan and choose their own music. This is where the phrase ‘dancing horses’ has come from.”

Diana has always been involved with horses and as a child was a member of the local pony club.

“I took part in all Equestrian disciplines, some more successfully than others!

“In my teenage years and early 20s, I focused on eventing. This is when the same combination of horse and rider, does three phases together; dressage, show jumping and cross country. I contracted meningitis when I was 25 and had to have both my lower legs amputated as well as all the fingers on my right hand.

Diana Man

Enjoy challenge and competition

“I have always enjoyed lots of sports as well as horse riding. I enjoy the challenge and competition. I thought long and hard about whether I was going to continue to ride a horse again or not. I had ridden at quite a high level before I became ill. I wanted to make sure I could still enjoy riding a horse rather than just sitting on one and being a passenger. It would have been very difficult to continue jumping, though certainly not impossible as there are amputees who do. I had always enjoyed the dressage phase of eventing, and by switching my focus to that it has enabled me to push myself in a new direction, rather than constantly comparing my riding to how it was before.

“I am actually now doing dressage at a higher level than I did as an able-bodied rider.

Still feels the same

“I never think my riding is any different from an able-bodied person. Because I’ve ridden all my life, in my brain my riding still feels the same. This is helped by the fact that my disability is amputations. What remains of my body still works in the same way it did before.

“Clearly this is not entirely true! There are two main areas that are affected. The aids I am able to give the horse with my prosthetic legs are nowhere near as precise as those given by real legs. I have to swing my leg out to kick rather than just being able to squeeze my lower leg around the horse. I am obviously also not able to hold on to the rein in the same way as most people do.

“However, on the plus side, because I constantly walk on my prosthetic legs, I have developed an extremely strong core and this is very helpful for riding.

“When I compete, I am allowed to use various compensating aids to make up for my disabilities. I ride with a different pair of prosthetic legs that are designed to sit better around the horse. I use toe caps and elastic bands in order to keep my feet in the stirrup as clearly I cannot feel them. The prosthetic Centre at Queen Mary’s Hospital, where my prosthetic legs are made, helped me design and make a special adaptation that I use on my right hand to help me hold the rein.

“All these things help to minimise the impact of my disability.”

In the next blog we look at what it takes to reach the top of disabled sport and what sacrifices have to be made along the way.

If you’d like to support Diana’s bid to represent Great Britain at the Paris Paralympics or sponsor her please do get in touch. In the first instance please contact diana@dianaman.com.

Read Diana's story.