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Riding goals get riders back in saddle
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09:21, September 08, 2008

Twists and turns in one's life can often be cruel, as many Para-Equestrian athletes have found out when trying to fulfill their goals in the Sept. 7-11 Equestrian events of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games at the Shatin Equestrian Venue of Hong Kong.

Many Para-Equestrian athletes started riding as able-bodied people with a love for horses, but various accidents left them paralyzed. They have tried very hard to overcome misfortune and get back in the saddle after accidents, with a faith always in their mind -- "believe in your abilities despite the disabilities."

Canadian para-rider Karen Brain and her teammates are among those who came back with confidence after accidents.

Riding from the age of eight, Brain was an Eventing team athlete and represented her country at the Rome 1998 World Equestrian Games, and was even shortlisted for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. However, a fall from her young horse in September 2001 changed everything.

The accident left her partially paralyzed, but a ride on a horse seven months later inspired her to set a new target -- the Paralympics.

Now a Grade IV rider, Brain claimed two Bronzes at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games and two Silvers at the Pacific Rim Championships in Vancouver in 2006. She also competed in the World Championships in Hartpury, England, last year.

Teammates Lauren Barwick and Jennifer Mckenzie also came through similar misfortunes. Barwick began riding at seven and later competed in Eventing and Jumping. But life changed when she was 18, as a bale of hay fell on her, resulting in paraplegia.

She thought her dreams were over and did not want to ride again. However, her confidence returned during a sailing exercise, which was part of her rehabilitation, and that led her back into the saddle in 2001.

As for Mckenzie, an avid pony club rider and successful Eventing competitor, the accident that changed her life occurred when her horse stepped into a hole on across-country course, leaving her paralyzed on the right side of her body.

As riding has always been a priority in her life, the Grade II rider took up Para-Equestrian pursuits in 1999 and has represented Canada nine times, including the World Championships in 2003 and 2007.

Meanwhile, Philippa Johnson, a Grade IV rider, is South Africa's leading rider who won two silver medals at Athens 2004 -- in Individual Championship and Individual Freestyle. She also took home a silver and a bronze from the World Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships in Hartpury, England, 2007.

She was caught in a car accident in October 1998. But she was encouraged by her long-time family friend Katrina Puttick, now her coach and the South African Team Manager, to return to riding.

Johnson's teammate Marion Milne rode as an able-bodied athlete in Jumping and Dressage before her spine was injured by a bullet in an attempted hijack when she was 17. The incident made her a wheelchair user, but she was encouraged to get back in the saddle.

"That was a completely different experience. You don't feel everything is the same as before the accident. So it was a huge step to take and a very big challenge. I took a very long time just to find the balance in my walk and it was a lot of work," Milne said.

Altogether, 73 para-riders from 28 countries and regions are competing at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, which opened on Saturday night and will last through Sept. 17.

Source: Xinhua

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