Tough call awaits Gunner

16:00, Nov 15 2012

Paralympian Anthea Gunner is used to making tough decisions.

And ordeals are nothing new to the paraplegic Swannanoa dressage rider following an accident with a horse in 2006.

But her career has come to a crossroads as she decides whether to switch gelding Bishop Button, who exceeded her expectations at the recent London Paralympics, for a German-based mount ahead of the 2014 world equestrian championships in France.

Whether Gunner makes that choice hinges on the success of a proposed trip to Europe to ride the new horse suggested to her by a mentor after the Paralympics.

It may seem a tough call on Bishop Button, dubbed Mask, but Gunner is wary of allowing emotions to blur her judgment.

The 30-year-old needs to be sensible if she is to enhance her chances of a winning a medal in France. There were no such expectations in London.


Riding the German mount would also reduce the massive costs of sending Mask to the northern hemisphere and prevent the risk of exhausting him.

"I have already qualified for the worlds on Mask following the results from London," Gunner said. "But you need to qualify on whatever horse you are intending to take."

"And at the end of the day you also have to meet the New Zealand criteria which is usually a lot harder than the international standard."

Gunner's love for riding, which she started as a 5-year-old, enabled her to overcome her disability.

After her accident near Wellington, where she lived at the time, she hankered to get back to her horses.

"He just bumped me when I was walking ahead of him," she said of the moment she tumbled down a gully.

"He slipped and bumped me and down we fell. It was just bad luck really. He didn't actually land directly on me but I landed on a rock and ricocheted between him, which was about 600kg, and the rock, and that was the end of that really."

She felt no bitterness towards the horse, Frankie, or the fact that she was left a paraplegic. "I have had him since he was 4 and he is 19 now. He is the chief lawnmower at home."

Returning to the equestrian circuit was inevitable for Gunner, a personal assistant who works at a courier firm.

Instead of using her heels and knees, she has learnt to distribute her weight and move her hips to command her mounts.

"When I get back on [a horse] there are no wheels attached to me and I have had people say I don't seem to have got a disability at all when I am on the horse.

"It is quite nice to have that freedom.

"It is like having to think ‘What would I do it if my legs were working? How can I do the same thing without?' "

Gunner said the consequences of her accident could have been far worse.

Rather than lament ‘What if?' she appreciates that she is still around to share a North Canterbury lifestyle block with her partner and three horses.

"Basically if the rock hadn't been there I could have walked away.

"But on the flip-side, if the gully had been a bit wider I would have been crushed and killed. The damage I did to my spinal cord, I don't think there's any coming back from it.

"But when you are in hospital, you look around and there are people who are far worse off than I am.

"And being at London and at the village, you think, ‘Crikey, I'm really lucky'."

The Press