"I want to be a better rider every day and that motivates me to train harder.”
In the summer of 2014, Rixt van der Horst took the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games by storm. It was the Dutch rider’s first major international competition, and she won both the individual test and freestyle grade II titles, just ahead of British Paralympic champion Natasha Baker.
That storm is heading toward Rio for September’s Paralympic Games, as Van der Horst has not slowed down since that summer. She went into her first European Championships in 2015, winning both titles again, and helping her country over throw Great Britain in the medal count for the first time.
It appears though, that dramatic entrances are something of a forte for Van der Horst. Now 24, she was born, along with her twin brother, Brend, 10 weeks ahead of schedule while her parents were on holiday in Luxembourg.
A lack of oxygen during her birth left Van der Horst with spastic diplegia. She was then diagnosed with emphysema at three weeks old, which has left her with asthma, and she also has a rare renal disorder and scoliosis.
She was introduced to horses at a young age as part of her on-going therapy.
“I started riding when I was five years old,” she said. “I loved horses (and all animals) and it was recommended by my physiotherapist. At first I rode without a saddle with someone behind me to hold me or I would have fallen off. My hips are in the wrong position, so it was not good to ride on a saddle at first but, after a few years, I wanted to try it and it went really well.”
Supported by her father, Anne, and her mother, Jannie, the young Van der Horst continued riding and then started to compete on her pony, Kim. Her first competition was against able-bodied riders at age 12, and she came second.
Jump forward nine years to 2013, when Van der Horst met her first horse Uniek N.O.P. “We heard that his former owner thought he would be really suitable as a para-equestrian dressage horse so we went to visit him and I rode him for the first time,” Van der Horst said. “That went really well so we entered a competition together and scored almost 76% - amazing!
“We’ve been at the top since then and later in 2013 we became his owners.”
Since her victory at the World Equestrian Games in 2014, Van der Horst’s goal of goal at Rio 2016 did not seem far-fetched.
“I would be over the moon if I won a gold medal in Rio,” she said. “The Games are the highest you can achieve and I would be really proud of Uniek, my team and myself if we won that gold. We are working really hard for it, so it will be really rewarding for all of us if it happens.”
But the grade II competition is one of the most talented classes, with Baker looking to keen to defend her Paralympic title on promising new horse, Sooki St James, who took home two silver medals from last year’s Europeans in the pair’s first major competition.
“In my grade, the competition is really close,” Van der Horst said. “And the level is getting higher at every competition. That’s very positive for the sport and also it makes me better as an athlete. I want to be a better rider every day and that motivates me to train harder.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.