South Lincolnshire-based para-equestrian rider, Bert Sheffield, who rides for Canada, tells us her thoughts on the Covid-19 virus and how it has affected her life with her horses:
“I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and stay sane. This is such an anxious time. I can’t possibly comprehend how terrifying this must be for our NHS workers. My groom for the Rio Paralympics 2016, Sophie Rowe, is just finishing her nursing degree and has been called up to fight on the frontline. I am so proud of her as well as being scared for her.
“In these times I feel even more privileged that I have my horses and my dog, Burghley. They are the guardians of my mental health. Mental health has been a struggle for me since I was a teenager. I worry for those stuck at home in isolation with fears about their livelihoods and health, with the usual purpose of their lives suddenly taken away from them. Depression and isolation are familiar killers and just as aggressive as this dreaded Coronavirus.
“On a happier note, Wonky Horse (Fairuza) is very fit and well! We were just on the cusp of starting our international competition season and the fight for team selection to the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 when everything stopped. We had been out to dip our toe in the water at able-bodied British Dressage Elementary level, winning our tests with some rather nice percentages so we were qualified for the Pet Plan next level and nearly qualified for the Regional Champs.
“The first sign it was all going pear-shaped was the cancellation of my all-time favourite international show, the Mannheim Maimarkt-Turnier CPEDI3*. Then others followed. Then came the announcement that Sport Canada had withdrawn their athletes from the both the Olympics and Paralympics if they were held in 2020. This was an epic moment. I couldn’t be more proud of my country for being the one that stuck their neck out.
“It is impossible to express how grateful I am that the IOC and IPC along with the Tokyo authorities have rescheduled the Games for 2021. The Games are about the very best athletes (and their hugely important support teams) representing their countries and battling it out at peak performance levels, on a level playing field. This wasn’t going to be possible in 2020 with the pandemic, but I’m hopeful that it will be possible in 2021.
“In the meantime, I just keep going at home. Everything we do has to be risk-assessed even more carefully to avoid injury to either humans or horses. We are no longer allowed to jump at the yard, to reduce the chances of injuries (and thereby protecting the NHS).
“I have lowered the intensity of Wonky’s work and she is having more time out in the field with her friends. I am so pleased that I have a good sized stash of Timothy HorseHage available for my horses as it is perfect for them as we go into springtime. They can eat all the high fibre/low calorie forage they need to maintain gut health while still getting to enjoy some of the new grass. We have to watch Wonky’s waistline as she’s a very good doer and she hates being without something to nibble on.
“Wonky is now doing her ridden dressage training one day in every three as with the recent sunny weather we have started hacking out again, something that she loves and is very sensible about. I have upped the amount of groundwork I do with my horses. Before each ridden session, I am going through a groundwork routine with them to make sure they are relaxed and focused before putting my foot in the stirrup. And then they do their ridden walk stretching exercises to get rid of any remaining tension before they start the ‘worky’ work. I have made my groundwork into a really popular free course over on my Facebook page ‘HeartHorse Dressage’, soon to be followed by an unmounted rider seat-strengthening course and a ‘how-to’ on long-reining.
“I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful support team around me, even if we are all social distancing. Some are near, some are far but when this is beaten and we can come back together, we will be ready, we will be stronger.”
For information on feeding your horse or pony from Bert’s sponsor, HorseHage, please call the HorseHage Helpline on 01803 527274 or visit www.horsehage.co.uk