Horses have their fair share of ups and downs but what does it take to train and deal with the onset of a life changing condition? We are delighted to introduce Laura Gulliver, a Grade IV Para rider currently on the BEF Talent Excel Programme Dressage Squad, who will be sharing her inspiring journey with us in her new blog, Para Power.
“I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Laura Gulliver, 21 years old and a Grade IV Para rider currently on the BEF Talent Excel Programme Dressage Squad. I freelance both teaching and riding which fits in perfectly with my condition.
I remember in 2008, I was at the Unicorn Trust doing a Dressage Under 21 SUK training clinic. The Para team horses had just flown home from Beijing, stopping off at Unicorn. Silver medallist Ricky Balshaw’s mum was lovely she showed us videos and we met the horses. However having been a successful show rider and competed at HOYS, then swiftly moving up the ladder as a pony rider never for one minute did I ever think I would become a Para.
I thought I had my life mapped out. I left school to follow in the footsteps of Charlotte Dujardin and did an apprenticeship with Judy Harvey. During this time I became unwell and was diagnosed with juvenile onset, idiopathic polyarticular rheumatoid arthritis. It was Judy who encouraged me to be assessed and graded as a Para.
After doing well at the Para Development day I was told by a selector that to be competitive at Grade IV I would need a horse capable of PSG. With no huge bank funds the only option was to train one myself! At the time I was fortunate enough to working, looking after the stallion Woodcroft Garuda K and when the chance arose to buy his 3yr old daughter I jumped. The last few years have been difficult times for me, coming to terms with how my body had changed, no longer working or feeling as it did before.
My huge focus, the reason to push through pain and get out of bed was my partner Woodcroft Natalia, the now 6yr old Trakehner bred by Woodcraft Stud who I have trained myself with the help of Simon Battram and advice from Antonia Brown. Natalia is not always the easiest, her brain is so quick but this has challenged me and kept my mind occupied. My ambitions are to train her to Grand Prix and one day maybe I can be part of medal winning teams.
The last couple of months have been a mixture of highs and lows. July saw us represent GB and make it through Natalia’s first International – our proudest moment yet! Also it was a great chance to catch up with Para buddies.
Sadly soon after I knew something was wrong and investigations showed Natalia had quite severe gastric ulcers. It could not have come at a worst time, with her out of action we had to miss the Para and Sheepgate Under 25’s Championships, all those months spent preparing and training gone down the drain.
A high came when I found out I’d won the Trakehners UK Junior Bursary, this is huge for me and will help enormously with my future training especially as I’m on a shoe string budget! Natalia has just had her 2nd endoscope and the progress is good, she has healed 80% so we are armed with additional medication to go with what she is already on and have another scope book in 4 weeks time. A plus to all this medication is I will never have to struggle to worming again, she is totally de-sensitised to syringes! With all this down time I have managed to keep well updated with the Olympics and Paralympics – and what an inspiration those riders are.
I also read that Sharon Davies MBE, when giving a life lesson on how to think like an Olympian said,
“Never give up, it’s those people who get up again and again and again who make it to the top.”
So with that thought in mind, I will hold my head up and look forward to the next chapter.”