Meet Amanda Shirtcliffe, our Great British Sponsored Para Dressage Rider
We have proudly been sponsoring Amanda Shirtcliffe for several years now and have seen her develop into an International Para Athlete and gain a place on the World Class Squad. We would like to introduce you to Amanda in more depth and bring you along for the ride. Read all about her below.
Tell us about your disability
I had been living with Dystonia for a number of years before I was officially diagnosed in 2012. Dystonia is an incurable, neurological movement disorder. It causes uncontrollable and usually incredibly painful muscle spasms caused by incorrect signals from the brain. In some cases, it can affect the whole body or just one limb. With me, both of my legs and my right arm are affected and without my leg splints I would be all over the place as my balance, coordination and motor skills are also affected, so everyday tasks can really be a chore when my limbs don’t play ball.
Introduce us to all your current horses
New-Princess (Princess Fiona). 16.1hh, Danish Warmblood, Mare. Princess by name and nature! A true dressage diva who will bang the stable door if her demands are not met. Princess and I made our international debut in July 2016. Since then, she has gone on to represent GBR in numerous CPEDI 3* competitions. Princess is an ultimate performer; I can always rely on her to produce a good test.
Remi (King Kevin). 16.2hh, Oldenburg, Gelding. Remi is a loveable rogue with a wicked sense of humour, if he were human, he would definitely be the class clown! Training Remi has been tricky, he had all the gear and no idea. We competed in our first 3* in Qatar 2019 with good results. Remi is motivated purely by his love for food, he travels to each competition with his very own lunch box & treat tub – I dread the day we forget to pack it!
Active Testarossa (Tottie). 16hh, Oldenburg, Mare. Tottie is the young gun of my team and is an exciting prospect for the forthcoming years. She has had very limited competition exposure and will be given time to develop and mature before making her debut on the international stage. Like a Labrador, she loves nothing more than a cuddle and an afternoon nap!
Who is your support team and what do they do?
The main member of my team is Louise Robson. Louise trains and takes care of the horses on a daily basis. Louise is also my competition groom and travels with me to all my events. I have a fabulous support team comprising of vets, farrier, physio & saddler that work their magic behind the scenes to ensure the horses are kept in prime prancing condition. I also have my own terrific team of healthcare professionals based at Core Clinics in Warwickshire and travel on a weekly basis for essential chiropractic, massage, and sports therapy treatment to help keep me mobile and riding.
Explain all about para dressage, how it works, what category you ride in?
Athletes are classified according to their disability across five grades. This is determined by the complexity of the movements that riders perform with their horses. Grade one is for athletes whose impairment has the greatest impact on their ability to ride, through to Grade five for athletes whose impairment has the least impact on their ability to ride. The grading ensures that the tests can be judged on the skill of the rider, regardless of their disability. Riders may use permitted devices to assist them such as connecting rein bars, looped reins, and the like; visually impaired riders are permitted to use ‘callers’ to help them navigate around the arena.
I ride as a Grade 3, my Para dressage tests involve movements that are ridden at walk and trot only. Because of the impairment in my legs I ride without stirrups. My compensating aids allow me to use my voice and carry two whips to act as a backup aid to my legs. All of my horses are trained off the voice, Princess Fiona and Tottie respond almost instantly to my voice signals, whereas Kevin appears to have selective hearing!
What is your biggest achievement to date?
Without a shadow of a doubt I would have to say being selected onto the Team GBR World Class Programme.
What are your goals and what you are doing in preparation to achieve these?
My ultimate goal is to represent Team GBR at a Paralympic, Europeans or World games (ideally all three would be great!). As athletes we are constantly striving with our horses to be the best that we can possibly be. Planning is key! Each horse has their own competition and training scheduled planned a good year in advance of a major games. Of course, it doesn’t always run smoothly, horses get injured and my hospital appointments & treatment often throw a spanner in the works, so it’s advisable to have a Plan B, or in my case C & D!
What have you been doing during lockdown?
In January, the U.K. went back into its third lockdown. Whilst all U.K. competitions had been cancelled, I was still training at home as I had been given special dispensation to fly out with my horse in February to compete in Doha.
Unfortunately, my plan to compete abroad was completely scuppered when I fell (not from a horse, but over my own leg!). It was the smallest of stumbles which resulted in the most horrendous injuries. CT scans showed I had broken my fibula in 4 places and completely shattered my tibia. Major surgery and a lot of metal work on the fibula was required to save my leg.
Physically, lockdown was predominantly spent lying down with my leg elevated above my heart, trying to reduce post op swelling. Mentally, I used the time to work with a sports psychologist. They helped me formulate a rehab plan and prepare myself for many months (I had been told at least a year) of not being able to ride.
What events are you currently preparing for?
Following my injury, I was immensely lucky that I was able to access phenomenal support to help with my rehabilitation. Surgeons, Chiropractors, physios, massage therapists, Osteopath, nutritionists, sports performance personnel and a stint in Team GB’s intensive rehab unit have all contributed to my recovery. At home, my groom and trainer maintained the fitness of my horses and my super sponsors (which of course includes Country & Stable) stuck by me and continued to supply and support my horses with everything they needed.
By the time you read this I will be almost 5 months post op and will have just taken part in a Team GB selection trial for the Tokyo Paralympics!!! There is still a long way to go in terms of my rehabilitation. But, I am eternally grateful to everyone who has helped to get me back in the saddle. I cannot tell you how good it feels.