GALLERY: From wheelchair to saddle 

EQUESTRIAN Courtney Larard spent six months in a wheelchair and doctors were convinced she would never ride again after having her pelvis and part of her spine crushed in a horse fall.

Then came the industry-paralysing outbreak of equine influenza, which all but levelled her breeding and horse schooling business.

It has taken six long and at times traumatic years, but the 26-year-old Lochinvar dressage rider and horse breeder is back in the saddle and firing. What’s more, with rising dressage horses MP Ravenna and F1 Sandro Girl and elite campaigner QEB Schumacher leading the way, 2013 is shaping as a breakthrough year.

‘‘We have not had the greatest past few years, but probably the last six to eight months we have been getting back the horse power I used to have as a young rider,’’ Larard told the Herald.

‘‘I have MP Ravenna and another four-year-old, F1 Sandro Girl, which are very special.

‘‘These two have definitely got the goods. Hopefully we can keep them sound and keep them ticking along and in 10 years’ time we can be looking at champions.’’

MP Ravenna made an unprecedented clean sweep of the NSW, Victoria and Queensland state dressage championships last year.

‘‘She is only at the preliminary level because of her age, but it was still a great achievement,’’ Larard said.

‘‘This was only her first year of competition and she was competing against horses up to three times her age and with many more miles.’’

MP Ravenna, which was bred and is owned by Beverley Fraser, also competed at the national championships, competing up a level in technicality, and finished seventh, despite being the youngest horse in the field.

Larard had a natural connection with the mare, having ridden her father last year.

‘‘I campaigned him very successfully and it made sense for me to move on to his progeny,’’ she said.

F1 Sandro Girl, which was bred and is co-owned by Jeff Sharpe and Melody O’Toole, also has a promising future.

‘‘The problem with these two little girls is that because they are so clever and so good, they accelerate very quickly,’’  she  said.

‘‘You don’t want them peaking until they are nine or  10. You have to bring them along gradually.

‘‘They are just like little kids. You have five-year-olds going to kindergarten. You might have one who is intelligent enough to be in year four, but you don’t do it to them because they will burn out.

‘‘It is exactly the same.’’

That Larard  can  climb  on  a horse is testament to her will and love for the sport.

Her world was almost destroyed in March 2007 when she fell from a dressage horse and was crushed.

‘‘I smashed my pelvis into multiple pieces and my back and lower spine were also badly damaged,’’ she said.

‘‘I was airlifted to hospital and once I got out spent six months in a wheelchair.

‘‘The doctors told my mother that I would never ride again. For my rehabilitation she told the doctors it was very important that I did not find that out.

‘‘I am all metal now and am much stronger now.’’

Larard spent eight months out of the saddle after the accident and virtually had to learn to walk again.

‘‘They kept me off my feet for a long time,’’ she said.

‘‘When I was first allowed out of the chair, you completely forget everything.

‘‘But it only takes a couple of months for your muscles to get back into it.

‘‘I was hobbling around at competitions after a couple of weeks.’’

The accident and EI nearly destroyed her business at  Rosebrook, which her family  has  run for 14 years.

‘‘Year 2007 was not a very good one for us and it has taken a long time to claw back,’’ she said.

‘‘At the time [of my fall] we had six high-level horses in work, all aiming for the Young Rider World Cup.

‘‘Within a couple of weeks they were taken away.

‘‘With EI, we did not have any sickness, it was more the lockdown, and the restricted transporting and not being able to do business.

‘‘It messed everyone around and was a dreadful thing for the whole industry. 

‘‘It took until 2009 to start turning to normal.’’

Now,  Larard is looking forward.

The  NSW Open Challenge at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre  is early  next month followed by the Dressage with Altitude in Orange from February 14.

‘‘We will do these two competitions and then international qualifying events in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

‘‘If we want to compete at the world cup we need to go to these events to gain qualifying scores.’’

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