Zoë Vorenas is a para equestrian dressage rider who is part of the Victorian State Squad and the National High Performance Squad. A horse girl since she was first put on a Shetland at age 3, Zoë tried many different disciplines before falling in love with dressage. In 2014, during her final year of school, Zoë was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. Unable to finish year 12, she spent many months in and out of hospital and rehab. But you can’t keep a good rider down, and Zoë was back in the saddle soon enough, slowly regaining her strength and improving her skills. After being accepted into the National High Performance Squad, she began her campaign for the 2016 Paralympics. Sadly, a stable injury ended the campaign for Zoë and her beautiful mare, Verona. Back home, she got to work with her current mounts, Minty and Walter, and now has her sights set on Tokyo in 2020! But, Zoë can tell her story much better than anyone else – and she very kindly took the time to answer a few questions for us.
You’ve been riding horses for most of your life; how has MS affected you as a rider? Has it changed your motivations or goals?
I have been riding for as long as I can remember, and honestly, when I was diagnosed in March of 2014, riding changed completely for me. It was almost as if I had to learn to ride again, except I had to navigate these difficulties such as horrifically poor balance, spacial awareness issues, lack of strength and so on. My MS left me with a lot of issues; in the beginning I had total right sided numbness, and for a while I lost my ability to walk, which was terrifying. It hasn’t changed my goals, to be fair, just possibly redirected them. I still want to achieve the highest level of my sport, and compete on the international stage, however now I have the opportunity to be involved in the most accepting community of Para Equestrian riders. Riders who inspire me every day to keep pushing on. Motivating myself has never been an issue, I’m quite driven and I know I need to work hard to achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. I’m also very lucky to be surrounded by a team who are always there to lift me up when it gets rough, and together I know we are working for the same goal.
Of all the horses you’ve ridden, is there one who is/was especially important to you?
That is a tricky question to answer, as I can’t pick one horse who was more special above the others. All my horses have come along at exactly the right time, and all of them have taught and given me something that I needed at that exact moment. For example, my first proper dressage horse, Moo, he was my best friend and taught me how to persist, keep trying and to bounce back from failure with more energy than before. Together with my coaches, we went from Preliminary to Prix St George, which was an incredible sense of achievement. My next horse, Precision, who is known as Dino in the stables, came about at the generosity of my coaches, Glenda and Faye. Dino is a Grand Prix schoolmaster, and was the horse that I trained on after being diagnosed. He looked after me so well, and taught me so much about the upper levels. I owe him a lot, and he’s now happily retired and enjoying the paddock life! My current two horses, Minty and Walter, are both a bit special in their own way. Minty came into my life just under 3 years ago in quite a state, and over the past years has come out of his anxiety-ridden shell and developed into the most affectionate character. He has been my main competition horse, and together we’ve achieved numerous goals, even managing to place as Runner Up National Champion in 2017. Walter is the newest kid on the block, and he is insanely talented, so the future is bright for that one! A lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve never been scared of hard work.
What does a typical day at the stables look like for you?
There’s never really a typical day when you’re talking horses! However, normally I’ll go up and ride, with a few lessons a week with my coaches at Wyronga Park.
Is there a person, or perhaps a story, that particularly inspires you?
I’m lucky to be surrounded by some of the most inspiring people in the horse world, to be honest, so I can’t say it’s one person or story in particular. All of the Para Equestrian riders are just incredible, and you feel a real sense of pride to be a part of such a community. Everyone lifts each other up, and you know that everyone there works hard and pushes the boundaries every day, both on and off the horse.
However, one big inspiration for me is my coach, Glenda. She has lived through so much adversity and struggle in her life, it has thrown everything at her. This year in particular, Glenda has lost her top competition horse, Melodie. She also suffered a severe kick from a horse, yet she made the effort to come down to my competition at Boneo in January every single day to warm me up, get my head in the game and give me a kick up the butt when I needed it. I owe her so much, as she has been my coach and mentor for so long, I wouldn’t be were I am now without her guidance.
What’s next for you and your team?
Well, we have our sights set on Tokyo in 2020, so over the next 2 years it’ll be a matter of gearing up for that and working towards that goal. However, short term I’d like to get Walter into the competition arena, and I’d love to do my first PSG with Minty, and possibly the Aachen Challenge at the end of the year!
A massive thank you to Zoë for this wonderful insight into her life, and we wish her whole team the very best of luck as they work towards Tokyo!
Image credits: Zoë Vorenas, Amy-Sue Alston.