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Back in the saddle: How my dressage dream became a reality

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Diane Green

Becoming an international Para-athlete was a dream when I started and to have achieved it in such a short time has been amazing

When Diane Green was diagnosed with progressive MS, she thought her riding days were over. But now, 17 years later, Diane and her horse Winnie have their sights set on the Paralympics in 2020. Diane shares her inspiring story.

When I suffered a horrific head and facial injury after being kicked in the face by a horse I was leading, and was then diagnosed with MS 10 years later, I thought my riding days were over. Until some 17 years later a consultant suggested I should go back to riding as I was struggling to sit up unaided for long and he thought it would be good for my core strength.  That is when I met the Watershed RDA Team and Beans the wonder pony.  At first I cried each time when I got home, I was nervous when I rode and couldn't last more than 10 minutes at a time. I had to have two walkers either side of me and someone leading Beans, very upsetting for someone who in a previous life had had horses at Grand Prix Dressage level and I was sad that I couldn't see that I would ever get that back.

The Watershed Team were fantastic with me and we did everything at my pace and with humour. As the months went by I got stronger physically and could sit up unaided again (something I had struggled to do, being reliant on sitting in my wheelchair or the sofa) and more confident until I was able to move from the steady neddy that was Beans and start to ride off of the lead rein and onto Connor who was a much sharper pony and a real character.  I started doing some video dressage tests with him and at the end of our first year together we won a silver medal in the RDA online National Championships 2015.  It went so well I made the decision to seek out a dressage trainer and found Sara Gallop at Summerhouse Equestrian Centre. After a few months together she suggested I get my own horse and have a go at Para-dressage - so she found me the perfect horse, Winnie, who we nickname the unicorn.

Winnie and I joined the British Dressage South West Para Dressage Team in January 2016, were we attend a monthly training session with FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) trainers and Judges, attended the Para Dressage Camp with the team GB coaches and were selected to represent the region at the Inter County Championships, where we were Reserve Champions. We were then selected to represent England at the Home International held at Vale View, Melton Mowbray.  Winnie and I won all four of our tests and our team were 3rd, the highest placing they have ever achieved at this event.  I also won the top prize for the highest scoring rider of the weekend. Something I would repeat a year later and boost the team into 2nd place.

We won Gold at the Dressage Anywhere RDA National Championships riding for Watershed RDA and we were Reserve Champions in the Freestyle Championships at the RDA Nationals 2016. 

In 2017 I applied for entry onto the BEF Talent Pathway (Team GB training platform) and have been selected, this leads onto the World Class Podium and we hope to be selected onto that level in July this year working towards a Paralympic Team place in Japan 2020 and beyond.

"It is the best therapy you can get and I know you will love it too . Just be prepared to smile and laugh a lot and perhaps shed a few tears of joy!"

Winnie and I also won the British Dressage Bronze National Championships and the Silvers - hard to believe that we have become double National Champions in our first attempt, and last year we were Reserve Champions in the Gold finals.  Our success through the levels has also meant that we have now been selected to represent Great Britain on three occasions and it is a real honour to wear the Union flag. Becoming an international Para-athlete was a dream when I started and to have achieved it in such a short time has been amazing.

Without Watershed RDA I would not have started on this journey with Winnie and I owe them so much.  I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to ride a Grand Prix test but I can still ride a quality horse and compete at the highest level.  In the early days of my diagnosis there were times when I would be at home for weeks at a time without venturing out in my wheelchair, some very dark days.  Now I drive a car independently with hand controls and ride Winnie 3/4 times a week, with a competition most weeks too, and I am back at Watershed coaching three other budding dressage stars, including Penny who also has MS and like me is finding it to be fantastic therapy.

When you are diagnosed with MS it is a very frightening thing. I left the neurologists very unsure of what the future would hold.  Because of the head injury my diagnosis took over 10 years and I had to get a bit feisty with my local hospital and transfer myself to the care of Prof Scolding at Southmead, where I at least got the diagnosis I already knew would come, by that point we had missed the relapsing form and moved to progressive so no medication for me.  But that meant I could move on and fight it (once I had got my head around it that is – which took a year or two).  The professor has seen a real change in me and when I saw him in July he said he wished he could bottle what I have and give it to his patients as I breeze in on my scooter with such optimism and fun, I told him to get horse riding added to the treatment list but I am not sure how NICE would react to that. 

I now really don’t worry about the future, I am back doing the sport I love supported by a new team with Para coach and trainer Leonie Brown and her fabulous team at Daneswood Dressage (Team Unicorn) and Winnie of course who really has changed my life.  I would recommend to anyone who has had the same diagnosis to have a trip to your local RDA centre – you may not have Paralympic ambitions like me but it is the best therapy you can get and I know you will love it too - just be prepared to smile and laugh a lot and perhaps shed a few tears of joy!