Norfolk para rider’s Olympic dreams
When Susi Rogers-Hartley broke her back and neck in a training exercise, it very nearly destroyed her life. But 13 years on, the para equestrian rider is hoping for a place in next year's Paralympics.
The former Royal Navy communications worker was involved in the devastating accident while taking part in an assault course for training, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.
At the time, she had been active, ridden horses all her life and had completed marathons. She very nearly ended her life.
But things took a turn for the better when she was partnered with working dog Lex, a golden labrador who is now 11, and eventually got back in the saddle.
Now, she is winning national and international competitions in showjumping and dressage and is a potential hopeful for next year's Paralympic Games.
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Susi, who was born in Bury St Edmunds and is based between Norwich and Oxfordshire, said: 'It was a horrendous time. I didn't have a job, I couldn't walk, I was in so much pain. I became very reclusive and lost faith in everything. I even tried to take my life because it all got too much. It was a very, very dark time.
'But things picked up when I got my canine partner Lex. He got me outside of the house and he was great with people. I came to the decision that I could either stay at home and be miserable or I could go on and do things that me smile and happy. I decided that I wasn't going to let what happened with the Navy wreck my whole life.'
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She got her first horse, William, seven years ago which saw her return to horse riding.
'It was great to be back in the saddle. You see the world from a different perspective than from in a wheelchair and you can cover so much more ground than what you ever would in a wheelchair.
'The thrill of having my own horse was enough for me back then but when I got Seamus, my showjumping horse, I got him specifically for showjumping.
'And he's just brilliant. He has an economical jump which means he never jumps higher than what he has to which is great for me.'
When Susi rides, all the work and balance is done through her shoulders and she has various 'gadgets' to keep her in the saddle.
She has weights in her boots and jumps up to British novice height which is about three foot (90cm). She wears a body protection jacket, splints for her ankles to help protect her joints and a knee brace.
'It's a high risk sport but it's great fun,' she said. 'It's just the thrill, the adrenaline rush. Before a competition, as soon as I get my showjumping jacket on, I start gagging through nerves. I'm not sick but I gag. My friends laugh at me. But once I'm riding, I'm at home and I love it.'
Her busy race schedule sees her compete every weekend. Earlier this year, she took part in the inaugural European Para showjumping championships in France. Together with Seamus, whose showjumping name is Dante Silver Dollar, she also came fourth in the International Show La Baule in France.
Susi, whose partner Simon Wheeler lives in Oxfordshire, is aiming to compete in dressage at the Paralympics as showjumping is currently not a Paralympic sport.
'Dressage is great for training for showjumping and Seamus and I have been told that we are a talented combination. I never thought I would be doing dressage but it's good fun,' said Susi who was recently partnered with younger labrador Major.
'Going to the Olympics or the Paralympics is always your ultimate aim as a sportsperson. The GB team is very strong and they have got to pick four riders.
'I've just got to keep competing, keep my percentage up and keep training and try not to think about it, just enjoy what I'm doing.'
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts are being made to help raise funds for Susi's new wheelchair.
An 80cm sponsored class was held at Grange Farm, Hainford, at the weekend to raise funds for the �11,500 power chair.