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BLOG: From colic surgery to WEG

Emma Booth and Mogelvangs Zidane in the Individual Test Grade III - © Michelle Terlato

Emma Booth and Mogelvangs Zidane in the Individual Test Grade III.

© Michelle Terlato


By Emma Booth

I recently put up a photo on my Instagram of Zidane and I at WEG with a caption questioning whether six months ago I thought Zidane would be competing at Tryon, and how my answer would definitely have been no. This isn't because I didn't have faith in his or my abilities, but after major, lifesaving colic surgery last year, 6 months ago Zidane was still completely being rehabbed and not in any kind of proper work yet. I thought about this post some more and realised this was a rather negative mindset for me to portray, which is something I don't often do. It is the truth however, so I thought this blog could aim to put a positive slant on this mindset I had six months ago. How having a horse compete on the world stage so soon after such massive surgery is really rather incredible and how happy I should be with this comeback regardless of results. So, bear with me as I try to convey an important message on team work, mental perseverance and forward planning.

To begin, for those that are unaware, in July last year (2017) Zidane had lifesaving colic surgery at South Eastern Equine Hospital. We were aware of Zidane’s colic episode within roughly thirty minutes of it starting, and he was at the hospital and on the table, undergoing surgery roughly an hour later. Surgery revealed that he had a large, benign tumour which had wrapped around and caused strangulation on three portions of his small intestine. He had over four metres of his small intestine removed and in this moment it was a painful wait to see if my boy would survive. There were serious doubts, and even post-surgery when he was waking from the anaesthetic, he had a terrible recovery, falling in the soft box a number of times and pulling his stitches. The amazing team at South Eastern, particularly Robin Charman who performed the surgery, all did an exceptional job and I can’t thank them enough for saving Zidane's life.


Zidane following colic surgery. Photo: Emma Booth Para Equestrian Facebook page

Zidane following colic surgery.

Photo: Emma Booth Para Equestrian Facebook page


After making it through the early stages of rehab post-surgery, Zidane had three months of box rest, followed by 6 weeks of in hand walking, and finally 6 weeks of only walking under saddle. It was such a slow process but one that was worth our while. He had a huge decline in fitness, all muscle was noticeably diminished, his weight had dropped and he looked like a completely different horse. It was six months post colic surgery in January 2018, when we entered and competed at the Boneo Classic, which was one of our WEG qualifying events. At this point he had had extremely limited work, but we thought seeing as my tests are only walk and trot, that we would give it a shot in the case we were able to try and qualify. He performed well getting scores of 69%, 71% and 74% in the freestyle, which were extremely pleasing results considering where he was with regards to his fitness and health, not to mention this being his first event post-surgery.

From here it was a slow road to recovery; we had to take his work very slowly due to increased swelling around his abdomen after he had been worked. We then had the use of a belly sling that supported his abdomen and he wore this practically 24/7. This was super effective in reducing swelling, but after six weeks he acquired a rub on his back where this sling sat. The rub was right under where his saddle sits and it wouldn't seem to heal. This required antibiotic treatment and time off from riding; only water walker and lunging without gear to keep a light amount of fitness present. It was at this point when my doubts of competing at WEG were really noticeable. My horse was rather unfit, we couldn't ride due to the rub on his back, I had only competed twice since his colic surgery, and we were trying to prep Zidane for overseas travel in August. It all seemed a bit much but with the support of incredible people around me, we kept slowly working away to achieve the ultimate goal of getting both horse and rider fit and healthy, and on a plane safely to the other side of the world.


Emma Booth must have been hot and exhausted but still put Zidane's welfare first - © Michelle Terlato

Emma Booth must have been hot and exhausted but still put Zidane's welfare first.

© Michelle Terlato


The wound on his back healed, the swelling around his belly was staying down, we were able to increase his work slightly to increase his fitness prior to travel, he gained some weight, and we successfully managed travel to America, via the Netherlands. This was a huge task. Zidane's time off and recovery really put us behind the eight ball going forward to WEG. I'm not saying I didn't feel prepared because I did, but having this time off meant time without training, time out of the competition arena and ultimately time taken away from our preparation for Tryon. Do I think Zidane and I gave it everything we had? Yes! Do I think that our preparation in the 12 months lead up to this event was ideal or what I would have chosen? No! So I guess these answers give some insight into where we were mentally going into our competition at WEG.

Now let’s talk about our actual tests in Tryon. Our Individual Championship test was up first and for those that were able to watch would know I was very happy with my boy’s performance. My reaction when tears rolled down my face after the final salute on the world stage was a bit of a giveaway that I was more than happy. The emotions that go into a small five minutes on the world stage are unbelievable and on completion I was overcome with happiness. We did have a few small areas where we could have gained a few extra points, particularly the halt to rein back, and the turn on the haunches, but overall we did what I thought was an accurate, and respectable test. Sitting in silver position right after my ride was a pretty great feeling. Natasha Baker had always been the one to beat and sitting less than a percent behind her, I was happy. However to sit and watch yourself slowly be taken out of the medal tally to finish in fourth position was hard to say the least. We were only 0.61% away from the bronze medal, 0.62% off the silver medal, and 2.1% away from the gold medal! So close yet so far. On one side of the coin I was overjoyed to be at WEG with Zidane after everything we had been through and thrilled with his performance, but on the other side, we were so close to getting that medal, and we had to watch it slowly slip out of our fingers as the riders scored so marginally higher than us. Believe me this is one of the hardest things I have ever had to sit through, and I've had my fair share of ups and downs in my time.

Well that was the hardest thing I had had to sit through, that is until after my Freestyle two days later. Before I dive too far into that test, I should explain that on the day between these events, the rest of my competitors from Grade III were all competing in the main arena again for the Team Test, but new rules had been implemented which meant I was unable to compete in this event because I was an individual rider and Australia didn't have a team. This is the first time this has been the case with these rules and I must say I don't entirely agree with this. Every other competitor that had qualified from the Individual Test to compete in the Freestyle (the top eight riders), all got to ride in the main arena again except for me, and I believe this to be a huge disadvantage. Not only does the horse not get another round of exposure in that competition atmosphere, the rider doesn't have the opportunity to mentally get another test under their belt, and the judges also miss a day of seeing us in that field of riders.


Emma Booth on Mogelvangs Zidane in the freestyle

Emma Booth on Mogelvangs Zidane in the Freestyle.

© Michelle Terlato


Anyway, those are just my thoughts — but back to my Freestyle. Zidane was incredible and I was over the moon. It was hot and he felt a little tired in my test, but man, he tried his heart out and we pulled off a solid test. My music was really special and I think suited my boy Zidane perfectly. I came out of the arena, huge smile on my face, lots of pats for Zidane. I got off, gave him a kiss before he was taken for a hose to cool off. I was ready to go into the mixed zone for interviews, but wanted to give my coach, Lone, a hug first. This is when I realised she hadn't come back over from the arena gate yet. I wheeled over and asked her what my score was, feeling hopeful and slightly buzzing from such an incredible high feeling. She turned and told me my score wasn't up yet. I waited patiently a few more moments, not thinking too much of it. She then said the judges had all been out of their boxes after my test, and the score has just come up as 66%. My heart sank!! I couldn't believe it and I didn't understand. We knew something must be wrong. I instantly felt sick, my heart was racing, the heat all of a sudden became too much to handle and I thought I was going to pass out. I had to remove my jacket and helmet immediately and drink some water. Lone was all over what she needed to do to find out what was going on. The Technical Delegate came to speak with us who then, after the last rider, was able to speak to the judges. It was brought to our attention that the marks were so low because the judges had determined that full walk pirouettes were not allowed in the Grade III para test. This was then debated for a short period of time before the judges realised walk pirouettes were in fact allowed, and that it was canter pirouettes which were not allowed. From here the judges had to review and change their marks for our artistic scores. During this time, the medal winners had already been announced and were waiting for their prize giving ceremony. I was sitting on the sidelines as they were getting ready for their ceremony, feeling so helpless it was excruciating. My revised score came back to us as 71.1% which was 0.6% off the bronze medal position. The prize giving ceremony went ahead and I left feeling completely shattered. Everything we had worked so hard for felt like it was achieved and then taken out of our hands. I'm not one to publicly put controversial opinions forward, but in this case I don't mind it to be known. I feel that at the highest level of para dressage, at a World Equestrian Games were so much is at stake — including not only medals but also funding — for the International Judges not to know what movements are allowed to be executed in a Freestyle event is simply not good enough. This completely interfered with the authenticity of my judging and in my opinion ultimately affected the outcome of my score. I don't have a crystal ball to say that had this not occurred, I would have come away with a medal, that's not what I'm saying AT ALL. What I'm saying, is that I should have had the opportunity to get a fair result from the start, and not to have the feeling of "what if?" I shouldn't have to ask myself "what if" there wasn't confusion with the judging, what would have happened? I should be able to leave the test knowing that my score was a reflection of my performance and that there was nothing that interfered with that other than my performance alone.

As I've said I don't normally like to portray negativity but this is a blog about my WEG experience and in order for you to have a feeling of understanding, I must be honest and not sugar-coat what occurred or how I felt about it. I came away slightly disheartened, but I have put the results behind me, focused on the things I was able to learn from such an AMAZING experience, be grateful to have shared this incredible journey with Zidane, and grow from this campaign. As I said when I started, 6 months ago I wouldn't have predicted for us to even be there, so to come away safe, happy, and so close to getting a medal, these are the things that I am thankful for.


Smiles all round for the Aussies after Emma Booth's test - © Michelle Terlato

Smiles all round for the Aussies after Emma Booth's test.

© Michelle Terlato


I guess what I'm trying to say is that anything is possible. I push this kind of message often but getting this horse to WEG after the condition he was in only a short twelve months ago is absolutely unheard of. I did have my doubts but never gave up. Zidane was extremely high maintenance and my groom Katelyn Thompson can certainly vouch for that. Icing his belly, adjusting his sling, hosing his belly, treating his wound, the list goes on. But in the end we made it and he performed extremely well. No, there was no medal around my neck on my journey home, but I will never forget the feeling of riding down the centre line on the world stage, on a horse that means the world to me and who I nearly lost only a short year earlier. He was absolutely incredible and I can't thank my amazing team enough. It was touch and go for a while, and ultimately my preparation for WEG was put back a good six months due to Zidane’s recovery, but we made it, we represented Australia, and for us WEG was all about exposure and experience for Tokyo. We achieved that goal, I am hungrier than ever to come away with a medal around my neck one day, and we will just wait and see what the future holds. Zidane dancing on that stage in Tryon only proves to me that anything is possible.






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