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Rest in peace LBA Zhia

Mandy Parsons and Zhia in the show ring. © Melissa Lee Stone Photography

Mandy Parsons and Zhia in the show ring.

© Melissa Lee Stone Photography


By Roger Fitzhardinge

It’s 9.30am Sunday morning in Hobart, and after a great Tasmanian Dressage Championships the week prior with her wonderful mare LBA Zhia, Mandy Parsons, a para rider preparing for a good crack at selection for the Paralympics in Tokyo, looked out the window to see Princess was somewhat distressed. Thinking it was a bot fly upsetting HRH, off to attend went Mandy! She was presented with a mare with a stomach ache… no bot fly in sight. 

Something made Mandy take immediate action in calling her vet, who was unfortunately in Adelaide. It was really all a bad luck story from here on in, as you will see. Zhia was a very special mare, in fact one in a million and was a serious proposition for the Tokyo Paralympic team. At only seven, she had just been crowned the open Elementary Champion at the Tasmanian Championships with scores over 70% and was ready for her first Medium test. Her very final competition was the Para Grade IV Freestyle, which she convincingly won with one judge scoring them 79%… look out the Paralympic bid! How quickly can these dreams be shattered.


LBA Zhia, aka Princess. Photo supplied.

LBA Zhia, aka Princess, was generous, honest and talented.

Photo supplied.

With no local vet available, Mandy's coach, friend and mentor, Lydia Jackson, got touch with her vet (it was a Sunday) and it was decided that it would be best to load the mare on the float and head to Longford, 2.5 hours north, where there is a horse operating theatre, but unfortunately no vet to operate until Monday morning… that is if one could fly down from Melbourne! In consultation with Lydia’s vet and people at a nearby racing establishment, some drugs were administered to ease the mare’s symptoms and pain and they set off to Longford. 


Mandy Parsons and Zhia before winning the Freestyle at Boneo Park. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Mandy and Zhia before winning the Freestyle at Boneo Park.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Mandy relates it was the longest and most harrowing few hours of her life, with several stops to get the mare up off the floor as she twice collapsed. The trip ended and after scans and palpation it was decided there was a blockage and also possibly a twist in the bowel, and that surgery was essential. The mare was kept as comfortable as possible but she never made it through the night. She died.

To think that Tasmania, with all the equestrian sports and racing, has such poor veterinary care in such a simple colic case makes you wonder! Seriously… no surgeon and no real facilities and a life lost is hard to swallow. With earlier intervention from attentive vets, this could have been avoided. It’s sad indeed and worrying also.


Amanda Parsons and LBA Zhia - © Roger Fitzhardinge

Amanda and LBA Zhia competing in a para equestrian event at Boneo Park.

 © Roger Fitzhardinge

Mandy bred and owned the sire, LBA Dance (campaigned by Jason James), by Jaybee Alabaster out of La Lotterie (Stirling Luther), and kept him an entire until he was four, after which he was gelded. She then competed him and he was very successful, but too bold and strong to be the perfect competition horse for her with the need of a lighter more sensitive going horse to help her. Mandy also bred and owned Princess’ dam, LBA Xena, being by the riding pony Willowcroft Twilight and from a thoroughbred mare.


LBA Zhia as a foal. Photo supplied.

LBA Zhia as a foal.

Photo supplied.

Mandy, a victim of the drug thalidomide, was born with her left arm severely shortened and with limited finger and wrist mobility in both hands. Mandy started riding as a small girl and her mother of British decent used to ride donkeys on the sea shore. Coming to settle in Tasmania, she always wanted her children to ride horses and so started a riding school, Gillingbrook Equestrian Centre, which for many years was run by Captain George Sanna. Mandy was a great rider naturally, and her love and passion of horses and her sensibility in wanting to be competitive was well rewarded. She won many championships showing ponies and galloways. She was an ardent breeder of outstanding horses, always looking to breed a very special one for herself and after a long and thorough program along came Princess. She just adored this horse from the day she was born, and broke her in and did all the training.


Mandy Parsons and Zhia. Photo supplied.

Mandy and Princess with coach Lydia Jackson.

Photo supplied.

Mandy was graded as a para rider when her interest in dressage saw her realise a great opportunity. Mandy and Princess made several trips across the Tasman to compete in para competitions, and everyone fell in love with this combination. They were a truly amazing partnerships and a more willing and harmonious partnership you would never find. They were just starting to blossom. There was a very special bond, and that affiliation and harmony combined with good training, gained them some very well deserved percentages and they were forever improving. With established flying changes and some expressive half passes, they were all set to get out there and have a serious go at Medium tests. Not to be. It’s all too sad to think so many years of planning, dedication, commitment and love, hard work and expenses and foregoing many opportunities in pursuit of her dressage training and performances. Lydia Jackson was instrumental in helping these two to realise their dream, and was always amazed and enlightened by the pair’s improvement that was constant every week, and found their will to learn, travel, compete and be successful, refreshing.

Mandy was born in the 60s when thalidomide was used as an anti nausea drug during her mother’s pregnancy and Mandy was victim to the side effects of the drug. Her physical abnormalities pale into insignificance when you enjoy her wit and quirky sense of humour. Life has thrown some curved balls at Mandy, but never has she not simply looked to the future, gotten up and moved forward. As she says, “What else can you do?”

Mandy is a modest character of extreme positivity. Outrageous and funny yet determined, respectful and focused. There is nothing she isn't prepared to give a go and her love of music and for whatever reason love or obsession in the French horn has seen her play with some of the most famous orchestras in the world and spend considerable time playing in Berlin, to mention one of the many international gigs.


Mandy Parsons and Zhia at Boneo Park. Photo supplied.

Mandy Parsons and Zhia at Boneo Park.

Photo supplied.

Her stud brand for LBA is a horn, and Zhia was complete with the beautiful horn brand on her left shoulder. Mandy and Zhia’s Freestyle, as one would imagine, was absolutely wonderful and to Bert Kaempfert’s big band music that was totally in keeping with Mandy and Princess. The performance, the harmony and interpretation was obvious to all who had the pleasure to watch. Her musical flare and harmony with her mare was totally obvious. At the para qualifier in February this year at Boneo Park, they won the Freestyle and a great culmination to consistent and great work. The international and national judges were extremely complimentary to the pair’s ability and quality of work. The Paralympic dream was underway and how fantastic. What a story and what an amazing journey that was totally organised and on track… yet above all, the passion, reward pleasure, fun and the honesty in Mandy’s mind to realise her weaker points made getting better easy. It was always joyful.

What more can you say now, than what a completely devastating story. A wonderful dream coming to fruition and then all of a sudden you are woken up and the dream becomes a nightmare. A beautiful story and then spiralling down in that giddy, hideous moment before you wake, saying it’s only a dream… but no, it is reality.

Mandy Parsons and Zhia. Photo supplied.

Photo supplied.

LBA Zhia was always a Princess. She was generous, honest and talented and above all, her character was enhanced by Mandy who was enthralled by this mare’s attitude and keen outlook to work and try her best every ride. Her presence and quiet unassuming confidence was always evident and the camaraderie, friendship and belief in these two from birth until death will forever be remembered by all who were lucky to witness them ride. 




Issue 47 - Medium advert


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