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Australia announces para-equestrian squad for Paris 2024

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Lisa Martin competing in 2016 (Screenshot via YouTube)

After months of intensive qualifying events, the Australian Paralympic squad for para-equestrian has been announced.

The Australian Paralympics announced on Thursday afternoon the four riders who have qualified and been chosen to represent Australia in Paris this year. Riders Stella Barton, Dianne Barnes, Bridget Murphy and Lisa Martin will now have the opportunity to showcase their skills at the Paralympic Games.

Barton, a Grade I para rider born with cerebral palsy began riding at the age of seven thanks to the support of Riding for the Disabled and has continued on her journey to the national level. She will be competing on horse Lord Larmarque (Bug), owned by former Paralympian Sharon Jarvis and has expressed gratitude to those around her for their support in reaching such a high level.

“I would not be where I am without them,” she said.

Grade I riders are permitted only to walk during dressage tests, however during their freestyle tests, riders conduct the elements of a test in an undisclosed order to music and may show lateral work.

Barton has said she is ‘thrilled to be included in the team... almost hard to believe it’s real’.

Dianne Barnes, a Grade IV rider diagnosed with Parkinson’s and dystonia, has had success both as a jockey and in the dressage ring.

Barnes made the shift from a grade V rider to a grade IV when her Parkinson’s progressed and she began to struggle with her memory. In 2016, she had spinal surgery on C5-6 and C6-7 anterior decompression and fusion.

Barnes began leasing her horse, Sorena, in 2023 and was placed in the grad V category, a moment that Barnes reflects “was the start of my para riding career”. Grade IV riders are permitted to engage in walk, trot and canter tests and their freestyle tests may show lateral work and single flying changes.

Bridget Murphy, a grade II rider, began her para-equestrian journey when she was 30.

Before competing in para-equestrian, Bridget participated in open competitions where riders with and without disabilities are permitted to compete alongside each other.

Bridget said:

‘To everyone who has supported my para-equestrian journey, this is for you! Without you, it wouldn't be happening...’

Grade II tests comprise walk and trot movements, with leg yields and lengthening. Riders can show lateral work in freestyles but aren’t permitted to canter.

Raised in Scone, the horse capital of Australia, to a family of Australian stock breeders, Lisa Martin was 28 in 2000 when she was involved in a fall whilst training a young horse.

Landing on her feet, Martin suffered a split tibia. Soon after, she slipped on her crutches, inflicting further damage. Two years and 20 operations later, fusing her ankle and cutting her Achilles tendon in the hopes of pushing her heel down to ride, Martin learned to walk again. However, after having her ankle fused, she has less than 15 per cent movement in her ankle joint.

Returning to able-bodied competition at the 2007 Hartpury Open, Martin was encouraged by national performance director Julia Battams to seek classification.

“I considered taking this opportunity up, thinking it was only an ankle injury,” Martin said.

Classified grade IV, Martin is permitted to compete in walk, trot and canter tests and freestyle tests may show lateral work and single flying changes. Placing fourth in all three dressage tests and the mixed freestyle at the 2016 Rio Paralympics on her mare Firs Famous, Martin says she has “unfinished business” on the world stage.

Now competing on her “soul partner”, German horse Vilaggio, Martin says:

“To have that journey pay off means the world to me. It doesn’t matter how I go in Paris it’s the fact that I’ve made it there.”

All eyes will be on Martin as she seeks to reach the medal podium.

Para-equestrians are judged on the accuracy and quality of their riding, their horse’s behaviour in gaits and halts, artistic finesse, and other aspects of their performance.

“Every time I do these campaigns, there’s something new I learn,” Martin, sponsored by 4cyte, says.

Having spent three days in Sydney as a team, the Australian squad departs for Paris on Friday.

Melissa Marsden is a passionate advocate for social justice and a self-confessed political junkie. You can follow Melissa on Twitter @MelMarsden96.

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