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Chelsea Higgins, at the tender age of 17, is the youngest member of Equestrian Australia's Paralympic Shadow Squad and with her beloved horse, HP Comedian, is showing that her young age is no barrier to success!
Queensland based Chelsea was badly injured in a fall at the second last jump, during the cross country phase of the Interschool Nationals in 2010, and suffered a brain injury. This hasn't stopped the dedicated young rider from achieving with horses though and after well-deserved success at the Paralympics Nomination Events recently, Chelsea is now dreaming of a possible visit to London.
Jo Johnson caught up with Chelsea following the fourth and final Paralympics Nomination Event at SIEC, to find out more...
Chelsea, how did you first become involved with horses?
Mum was involved with horses her whole life, so I first started riding when I was three! I went on to be involved with pony club, gymkhanas and shows then I started competing at Interschools competitons when I was 10. Then I started doing EFA when I was 13 - dressage and eventing.
After your accident, how did you become involved in para-equestrian events?
I don't remember anything from my accident, so I don't have any fear of horses or riding. Afterwards I wasn't allowed back on horse for six months and once that time was up I started riding again. I was then approached by Equestrian Queensland, who asked if I’d go to talent ID search and went to that and then they asked me to get classified for para-equestrian events. I was classified as Grade III and it all evolved from there.
Tell us about HP Comedian?
I only got HP Comedian 10 days before the CPEDI 3* in December last year, from Wayne Williams in NSW - he'd had him for 10 years and took him up to Grand Prix. Comedian is a 16.3hh, dark brown, Holstein Warmblood bred at Holstein Park and he is awesome! I love him to pieces. His paddock name is even Comedian because it suits his quirky and funny personality. If you walk past his stable door he'll put his top lip up until you give him a carrot or sugar. He's really fun.
What have been your proudest achievement so far with Comedian?
At the CPEDI 3* I was the top Australian (came second) after having only having 10 rides on Comedian, so to come out and achieve that was really great. I was so pleased that after only a short time we'd formed such a strong bond and managed to pull it all together. In saying that, we've improved heaps since then, but that still stands out as a valued achievement.
Who are your coaches?
Alexandra Berns and Denise Rogan are my two main coaches. Denise sometimes comes up for clinics but whenever I go to Sydney for a competition I travel down a few days early and have lessons with her before the event. Alex will also come with me to competitions. Comedian and I have been living at Alex's in Beaudesert, so I can focus on my training and continue to try and improve. I feel like I have improved in leaps and bounds since I've been at Alex's. I train four times a week, Alex also rides Comedian, and then he gets Sundays off.
What are some of the challenges you face?
I have to manage my fatigue – that's a really big issue for me, because I'm not always physically and mentally tired. My brain will be active but my body is completely exhausted. So it's really hard to manage that. That's one of my biggest challenges.
How often do you compete?
I used to compete every weekend but now I've been to a few local competitions, like Fig Tree Pocket, but have been mainly focusing on my big nomination events. The local events were great for getting practice.
What's the para-equestrian community like?
When I was classified I went to the first try out and big para-equestrian event and thought I wouldn't fit in. I thought, no-one's going to accept me because I'm new, but everyone was so welcoming and so nice - really lovely. The bond with everyone is phenomonal. The para-equestrian people are all friends and everyone is so nice to each other - they're all really great to be around.
If you are chosen to represent Australia in London – what are you most looking forward to?
The experience of representing my country. Also I've never been overseas, so getting to visit London and represent my country at the same time would be awesome.
Getting to London aside – what are some of your future goals?
I want to try for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in two years and maybe do some able-bodied competitions. I'd like to aim to compete at medium in able-bodied competitions if possible. I'd also like to try and study, as well as ride horses, at the moment I can only manage to do one thing with my fatique and am focussing on horses.
What advice would you give to others who want to get involved with para-equestrian events?
Give it a go! You might surprise yourself. Equestrian Queensland were so supportive and I'm sure other states would be too. EQ approached me to get involved and were so encouraging. I recommend contacting your State branch and find out what you have to do to become involved.
Anne Skinner, Chelsea Higgins, Elizabeth Sobecki, Danielle Weymark at the 2011 Para-Equestrian National Championships (photo: Free Rein Photography/EA)
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Tenacious, passionate and sensitive!
Do you like little dogs, big dogs or are you a cat person?
I've grown up with dogs and I like little dogs, but I'm obsessed with cats, so am definitely a cat person! I love cats! My cat is called Wally, so when we look for him it's like 'where's Wally?'
Probably 'Dear John' or 'The Vow'.
What music are you listening to?
R & B.
What do you love to do when you’re not with horses?
I like going to gym and hanging around with my family. I love visiting my dad at the Gold Coast. I miss my brother because he lives in America, so am big on family time.
Shout out to supporters?
My coaches, my family and my sponsors Equitech and Equissage and my beautiful horse, of course!
Thank you so much for your time Chelsea! Best of luck regarding being chosen for the Australian Team for London and for all your future endeavours.
- Read more about the last Paralympic Nomination Event and see results
Find out more about para-equestrian events at the Equestrian Australia website