Paralympian Bert and ‘Mr Darcy’ offer sneak preview of Rio dance in West Pinchbeck

Bourne Paralympian Bert Sheffield at Fourwinds Equestrian Centre, West Pinchbeck, with centre founder and owner Paula Leverton (fourth left), dressage demonstration organiser Alice Horton and staff.  Photo by Michael Fysh.
Bourne Paralympian Bert Sheffield at Fourwinds Equestrian Centre, West Pinchbeck, with centre founder and owner Paula Leverton (fourth left), dressage demonstration organiser Alice Horton and staff. Photo by Michael Fysh.
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The Paralympic spirit came to West Pinchbeck on Thursday when equestrian rider Bert Sheffield (35) and her competition horse Double Agent (Darcy) stole the show.

Fourwinds Equestrian Centre hosted a dressage demonstration where Bert and Darcy, as she prefers to call her nine-year-old mare (an adult female horse), showed off the routine that could win the Bourne rider a medal at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month.

The demonstration night was organised by Alice Horton, an instructor at the centre founded and run by owner Paula Leverton in 1980.

Paula said: “I started with a crazy dream of owning an equestrian centre and built it up from a point of owning two ponies to now where we have over 40.

“We’re now a riding schoool that offers lessons to people from four years of age upwards.

“But we also run lots of social events where everybody gets involved, as well as horse riding lessons and camps.

Bert Sheffield in action on board her horse Double Agent (Darcy).  Photo by Michael Fysh.

Bert Sheffield in action on board her horse Double Agent (Darcy). Photo by Michael Fysh.

“Our biggest growth area is in having adult lessons because a lot of riding schools don’t cater for adults, whereas we do.”

The invitation to Bert came after she was selected for the Canadian Paralympic dressage team, along with Darcy who she bought as a two-year-old and has gone on with to finish fourth at the World Equestrian Games in France two years ago.

Alice said: “We were thinking of things to do for our adults’ camp and because Bert keeps her horses here, she volunteered to do a session to show people what’s expected of her and Darcy at the Paralympics.”

Bert gave her audience of up to 40 people a talk through her life so far, including when she was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic (cause is unknown) arthritis as a 15-year-old.

I’ve had Darcy ever since she was two when I saw a picture of her as a foal, so someone else’s reject has become a horse I’ve been working together with for a long time

Bourne-based Paralympian dressage rider Bert Sheffield

“It was really lovely to be able to do this demonstration evening so close to Rio with Darcy, one of only two British-based horses that are going to the Paralympics,” Bert said.

“I’ve had Darcy ever since I saw a picture of her as a foal, asked the lady who owned her whether I could buy her and did so for a little bit less than most horses.

“Someone else’s reject has become a horse I’ve been working together with for a long time.

“But Darcy’s had to acclimatise to being in Lincolnshire, rather than on top of a Welsh mountain where she was before.”

The demonstration night was broken down by Bert into a beginner’s guide to dressage before she went on to demonstrate the differences between riding to music and riding without, along with the main elements her judges in Rio will be looking for.

“When you work with a horse at this level, you have to start off with a lot of walking,” Bert said.

“I’m a grade III Paralympian dressage rider so my level of testing is about elementary to medium level.

“But you are expected to do the tests as if the routine is a finished product, so you have to be technically superb and absolutely spot on.”

Bert competes to a high level despite having a condition that causes pain and swelling of the joints, stiffness and tiredness, as well as weight loss, anaemia and flu-like symptoms in the most extreme cases.

“I have a reduced range and power of movement in my body which is why I compete with two riding sticks,” Bert said.

“At the Paralympics, I may ride with elastic bands holding my feet in my stirrups (frames or rings that hold the feet of a rider while sat on a saddle), otherwise I’ll be disqualified if I lose my stirrups.

“I do treat competing very much as a job, but I also love training horses and I’m really lucky that Darcy doesn’t blow her brains out at competitions.

“She isn’t influenced by the atmosphere, nor the emotional energies of the people around her.

“For me, I’m as excited to see how my training holds up in the situation of Paralympic dressage as I am with the wow of the competition itself.”

Bourne-based Paralympian dressage rider Roberta “Bert” Sheffield is keeping things nice and steady before flying out to Brazil on September.

Bert’s competition horse, Double Agent (Darcy) takes to the air two days later but for now, both are keeping their routines as normal as possible.

“At this point, you don’t want to be too excited or too nervous because we still have quite a long-time to go before Rio,” Bert said.

“It’s too easy to peak early in your mental preparations, so we’ll keep going with what we’re doing now and keep everything on an even keel until the Games when we become a machine.”