By Diane Mulhern.
The strength of the bond between horse and rider is tested on competition day. The partnership formed through practice, discipline and patience allows both horse and rider to navigate any obstacles in perfect sync. Tauranga para-equestrian duo Jodie Thorne and San Mateo Tech Effects are living proof of this strong partnership.
Since being diagnosed with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Distrophy (FSH), a rare muscle disorder, at the age of twelve, Jodie Thorne has learnt that limitations are set by the mind and not the body. Determined to continue her love of riding, Jodie was classified as a para-equestrian dressage rider in 2010 and competes in Grade 1A which is a walk only test.
In her teenage years, Jodie competed in able-bodied dressage in Bristol where she grew up. In the early years of her FSH Jodie was able to trot, canter and jump, as well as undertake all of the daily duties associated with riding such as catching, grooming and tacking up. Although her body no longer allows her to ride like she used to, Jodie refuses to give up her passion for riding.
“I’ve learnt to accept that I can’t do certain things anymore, but I’m incredibly lucky to have a fantastic crew around me to make riding at all possible. I make the most of being able to ride and compete and being able to share such a special bond with my awesome horse. I have to say I love every second I can spend in the saddle – it’s definitely my happy place!”
Jodie knows that riding may no longer be possible one day as her muscles deteriorate. If the day came that she could no longer sit in the saddle, she would like to give carriage driving a go.
“My life has always been about adapting to what my body can’t do anymore but not giving up the things I love. Horses have always been a part of my life and I am determined to make sure they always will be!”
Jodie and her husband Darren moved to New Zealand in 2004, originally to Wellington, before relocating to Tauranga in 2007 where she now lives with Darren and their son James.
In 2011, Jodie met her best friend, a 16.1hh Clydesdale-Stationbred cross gelding named San Mateo Tech Effects (more commonly known as ‘Tech’). Despite Tech never having set a hoof in a dressage arena, or ever being ridden as a para-horse, he and Jodie went on to compete at Horse of the Year only six weeks after their partnership began.
Since then both Jodie and Tech have come a long way together and if ever there was a horse that knew his rider, it’s Tech! Tech can sense when Jodie is tired and will drop his pace to help her balance so Jodie does not tire herself out before a competition.
While other riders are able to practise for hours each day leading up to a competition or show, Jodie’s condition often leaves her tired and sore if she rides for longer than twenty minutes a day. This limits her practise time but certainly not her determination to succeed.
On competition day Tech is groomed, tacked and warmed up by his doting crew before Jodie is helped into the saddle. As part of her classification, Jodie is permitted to ride with certain compensatory aids, including looped reins, a solid handlebar on her saddle for balance, thigh straps, and two dressage whips. She is also able to salute to the judge using her head only. Pairing these aids with the use of voice commands and nearby ‘spotters,’ Jodie navigates the arena with precision.
Jodie and Tech competed at the Waikato Equestrian Centre Dressage Summer Bonanza in Hamilton in January riding in the Level 2 (Novice) and above test of choice class. This was the duo’s first year competing at the Bonanza and Jodie was the only para-rider competing but this did not stop the pair from going on to win their class with 66.09%.
Inside Jodie’s float, there is a note pinned to the wall. It reads “Tell me I can’t, and I will.” When asked about it, Jodie says she feels it summarises her perfectly.
“In theory, riding should be pretty impossible for me in terms of all the challenges it throws up. The words of that quote- tell me the risk is too high, the challenge too great, the feat too tough- all apply to myself and riding. I’m stubborn enough to find a way around all these things to do what I love.”
Winning their class was a very proud moment for both Jodie and her team who accompany her to competitions. Jodie’s team is always by her side to celebrate her successes and support her and Tech each step of their journey.
“I am incredibly grateful and humbled for all the help and support I get from my crew and my sponsors. I am just one girl doing what I love, but that’s only possible thanks to the fantastic support I have around me. I feel very lucky for that!”
Jodie looks forward to catching up with friends from around New Zealand at the upcoming 2016 Horse of the Year competition where she and Tech will be competing. She will also be competing at the Bates National Dressage Championships for the first time in Feilding this February.
Rider classification available at Horse of the Year 2016
If you’re a new rider wanting to be classified to ride para-equestrian, or an existing rider needing to be re-classified, Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ) Para-Equestrian have appointments available at Horse of the Year.
For more information contact ESNZ Para-Equestrian by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or through ESNZ Para-Equestrian Facebook page.