Emma Booth is a para equestrian who has represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics with her horse Mogelvangs Zidane. Emma became a L2 paraplegic after being involved in a horrific car accident in 2013 that severely damaged her spinal cord. Determined not to let her injuries prevent her from following her dreams, Emma’s courage and determination saw her back in the saddle soon after the accident, with her sights already set on the Paralympics!
We interviewed Emma in April 2016, when she was campaigning for selection as part of the Rio Paralympics team. This is her story…
What is your earliest memory of horses?
My earliest memory would probably be when I went to visit my Aunty in Canberra and got to have a sit on her horse. I had always loved horses and I remember absolutely loving being able to interact with him and feeling totally at home in the saddle.
What was the name of your first horse?
My first horse was called Scruffy. He was a fluffy, white, cheeky pony who was an absolute star. He taught me so much and is now retired in a paddock at my place, living out his life being spoilt and happy.
How have horses influenced or changed your life?
I think that having horses in my life has taught me a number of things over the years and shaped me into the person I am today. I believe owning and loving horses teaches you to be resilient and patient, makes you manage your time and money, and keeps you fit and active. After my accident, horses really were like therapy for me. They are amazing animals and always give me a lift whenever I’m feeling down.
You started your equestrian career as an eventer. What made you choose this discipline?
I don’t think I chose this discipline really, it sort of just happened. When I first started riding, all of my instructors were eventers. I loved jumping and the thrill of cross country, but also the precision and discipline involved in dressage. I never really could choose one discipline so I guess I just chose the one that covered them all.
What was the first thought that ran through your mind when you woke up in the hospital following the accident?
To be 100% honest I couldn’t tell you the first thought when I woke up. I can clearly recall my accident, but once I was in hospital it all became a bit of a blur. I do however remember being in the ambulance and worrying about the paramedics calling my mum. I gave them her number and I remember thinking how broken she would be receiving that phone call and how worried I was about her and my family.
What was the most challenging part of the rehabilitation process following the accident? How did you overcome this?
That’s a hard question. Its tough pin-pointing just one thing as being the most challenging, as it was all extremely difficult. If I had to give one thing, it would probably be coming to terms with my injury, and I can say with confidence it was my family that helped me overcome this.
In one word, describe the feeling of being back in the saddle the first time after the accident.
What does riding or being with horses mean to you?
I believe that horses and riding are really what keeps me sane and without them I wouldn’t be the same person.
You have enjoyed incredible success in the field of para-dressage. Which achievement are you most proud of?
I would definitely be most proud of my recent freestyle performance with Zidane at Boneo in January. He was absolutely on fire and we scored a massive 79%. A clear PB for me.
Tell us about the horse you are competing on to gain selection for Rio.
Zidane is a 13 year old Danish Warmblood gelding that was imported from Denmark roughly two years ago. He is the most cuddly and quirky of horses but so consistent with his work, and I always feel so safe on him.
Apart from Rio 2016, what is your long-term goal as a rider?
Obviously my most current goal is to represent my country, but beyond that I suppose I really just aim to promote the sport and help others on their journeys.
Is there any rider you look up to and admire?
Lone Joergensen – my coach.
Do you have a ‘life motto’ that you don’t mind sharing with us?
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.
Well, we can now tell you that at the Rio Paralympics Emma finished 5th in the Individual Championship Test Grade II and 13th in the Dressage Individual Team Test Grade II to help the Aussie team achieve 9th place.
And at the Tokyo Paralympics – Zidane’s last hurrah before his well-deserved retirement at age 19 – the pair scored 73.8% in the Grade III Freestyle competition, earning 5th place overall. They also made Paralympic history as the first ever horse and rider combination to represent Australia at two Paralympic Games.
“The most special thing about this whole experience is being here with him [Zidane] and having that one last opportunity to represent my country on the world stage with my favourite horse,” Emma said.