INSPIRATIONAL Shoalhaven dressage rider Victoria Davies’ star continues to grow, as she tries to qualify for next year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Also a former member of the Berry Riding Club, Davies who turns 31 this month, has a big year ahead of her to make that Australian team.
“I have been working extremely hard over the past three years, which is when I decided I wanted to ride at the Paralympics,” she said.
“Over the next few months is crunch time, as the Australian Para Equestrian qualifiers and selection events for the Paralympics 2016 begin in December 2015 down in Werribee, Victoria.
“Then there will be two selection events which will be held at Boneo Park, Victoria in January 2016 and another in Sydney, in April.
“For Australian based riders overseas like myself there will be three or four qualifier events in Europe, as the team will be announced shortly after in June 2016.
“As riders we are required to reach set target scores and a selection panel of judges will assess our scores over the qualification events and choose the best riders which they believe are medal contenders.”
Davies will be the only Australian para rider doing both qualifiers in Australia and Europe, on two different horses Spanish stallion Andaluka Elegido and Lusitano stallion Celere.
“For these European qualifiers, I will be riding against the world’s best para dressage riders from all nations,” she said.
“To be selected for the Australian team, I just have to be the highest scoring grade II Australian rider throughout the qualification period however, my aim is to show the European riders who I am and show them they will have an Aussie on their tail wanting gold at Rio."
Davies, who trains more than five times a week, including sessions at NSWIS, has been fighting her disability since the age of nine.
“During this time I was in and out of hospital for two years and it has been suggested my body was fighting a virus, which resulted in my body becoming confused and attacking all healthy cells,” she said.
“Nearly two years after my fight begun, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid with negative rheumatoid factor and later re-diagnosed with negative rheumatoid factor with onset juvenile.
“Only 20 per cent of people are diagnosed with negative factor – a chronic autoimmune disease that destroys joints and organs.
“I spent my childhood unable to walk and had to give up my love of riding. I was told at age 12 I needed bilateral hip replacements, however was too young for the surgery as I was still growing – I had to wait.”
At age 19, Davies had her first hip replacement, with a second a year later.
Since then she has had over 40 operations on her joints and replacements, three major operations (two hip replacements and a full foot fusion) and has many major surgeries needed such as two shoulder replacements, right foot fusion, both ankle fusions, her back is to be plated and fused and both hips re-done.
“I was recognised as a rider with disabilities in 2004 after my second hip replacement,” she said.
“At the time, I was classified FEI Grade IV (least disabled) but today I am FEI Grade II, due to how badly my body has deteriorated over the years.
“This is the third most severe disabled classification and in this grade, I compete against other riders with disabilities that range from amputations, paraplegia and like myself severe joint destructions and replacement.
“All my horses are commanded by voice, as they know walk, trot, canter, halt, over, back, walk on, head down.
“Local FEI rider Jim Collin has been my Australian coach and trainer for five years and has broken in all my performance horses.
“My joints dislocate or lock at any given time and when this happens, my horse knows not to move until I get help or put the dislocation in.
“I only have 5-10 percent use of movement in my legs when I ride and my strength is not strong.
“As such, I use two crops as aids which my horses know what certain taps mean on the shoulder or places on the sides."
On top of making the Paralympics, Davies has big plans for the European circuit.
“I wish to import my European horse Celere and compete PSG in open dressage and work myself up the levels.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to one day compete at the Grand Prix on a Lusitano or PRE.
“When I purchased my PRE stallion he was six-years-old, I paid little money, but I could see his potential, he wasn’t broken in by Jim Collin.
“He had never seen another horse and now he’s an international award winning para dressage horse on Australian High Performance squads with many Australian titles to his name.
“I bought a young colt Hanna Poderoso when he was eight weeks old.
“He is now five and together with my Australian coach/trainer Jim Collin, we hope to campaign Poderoso for the Paralympics in Tokyo 2020.”
Victoria was also recently selected on the Australian High Performance Squad and awarded a scholarship with the NSW Institute of Sport as a High Performance Athlete for her outstanding results and professional conduct.
Over the next few months, they will be promoting Davies’ story and would love the local community to get behind and show their support.
This has been purely a self funded campaign over the past 1.5 years and there are hefty costs involved with transporting my European horse around North Europe; entry fees, accommodation, medical treatment and training.
For further details of her story or how you can help – please visit: www.victoriadavies.com.au