Emma Booth: Journey of determination

20 June 2024 Written by VRC

In the high-stakes world of para-equestrian sports, the path to success is often paved with unexpected challenges and moments of resilience. Emma Booth embodies this spirit of perseverance.

A passionate equestrian since childhood, Emma Booth’s life took a dramatic turn in 2013 when she was involved in a near-fatal crash that resulted in paraplegia. Despite this life-altering event, Booth, now 32, continued to excel in the international arena, achieving top-five finishes at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, the 2018 World Equestrian Games, and the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Following the Tokyo Games, her horse Zidane was retired and sadly passed away not long after his retirement. This left Booth with a horse-sized gap in her life, and she headed to Europe to search for a new partner for her 2024 Paralympic aspirations.

Earlier this year, she relocated to Germany, hoping to find a horse that could take her to Paris. She found her match in Saimir, an 8-year-old chestnut gelding previously owned and trained by Marco Bührig. Based in Loxstedt, Booth and Saimir began their journey together, competing in a series of qualifying events across Europe.

Booth’s first qualifying event at the Waragem CPEDI3* in Belgium was overshadowed by an unfortunate fall just days before departure, leading to doubts about her ability to compete. However, determination prevailed, and simply entering the competition arena became a significant achievement. Despite torrential rain on the first day, Saimir provided the needed stability, allowing for a cautious yet confidence-building performance. Although the scores were not as high as hoped, the experience was invaluable. The support of Booth’s travelling companion, Paige Drakke, also proved essential during this challenging time.

Upon returning from Belgium, a CT scan revealed fractures in Booth’s sacrum and left trochanter, forcing a significant reassessment of her campaign. Rehabilitation began at the Australian Institute of Sport’s European Training Centre in Italy, focusing on pain management, mobility improvement, and strength maintenance. During this period, Drakke continued working with Saimir in Germany, ensuring the horse remained in peak condition for the next competition – the Stadl-Paura CPEDI3* in Austria.

Despite not achieving the desired scores, the Stadl-Paura CPEDI3* marked a personal victory for Booth, and the unwavering support from her team helped maintain her morale. She set her sights on the Hagen CPEDI*** event in Germany. It was a great success, with the pair achieving a qualifying score of 67% and an impressive 70.178% in the freestyle, resulting in a sixth-place finish. This progress also demonstrated the deepening bond between rider and horse.

This was followed by a successful showing at Kronenberg CPEDI in The Netherlands, where they secured their second and final qualifying score of 67.445% in the Grade III Grand Prix A. Emma Booth and Saimir are now fully qualified for Paris as a combination and are nervously waiting to hear from the Australian selectors. Given their incredible progress in such a short time together, it seems like anything could be possible.

Emma said that regardless of whether they are selected for the Australian team, she is so proud of what she and Saimir have managed to achieve.

“This has been anything but an easy campaign, we’ve had so many challenges, so much thrown at us. It feels like anything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong, yet we’ve managed to keep persevering,” Emma said.

“They say that victory tastes sweeter the harder the journey, and that is definitely the case with our qualifying scores.

They weren’t an easy feat and it was such an amazing feeling to have managed to fit the selection criteria and get those two qualifying scores.

“We’ve done it in the space of a three-week period with a new horse on the other side of the world and I’m just so thrilled with Saimir and how he performed. He really stepped up and has proven himself to be such a competitive and really top-level performance horse. He is a true gentleman and he really looked after me.

“Saimir is a really funny horse with a lot of character. He has a huge personality and he makes us laugh every single day. He has been a joy to campaign. It was a huge ask for any horse, and particularly in para, at these huge events with so much atmosphere, he handled it like an absolute professional and these last two events in particular, he has just stepped up, proven himself in my eyes and I couldn’t be happier with where he was at our last event and how he felt.

“He is just trying all the time and the more we ask, the more he gives, so I think those are the qualities that you look for in a horse at this sort of level. I think that he is just going to continue to step up and continue to improve with more time as a combination, so I am looking forward to seeing how that goes and what we can achieve.

“The team is announced soon and I am looking forward to the announcement so that we have clarity around that and either way, I’m super proud of what we’ve managed to achieve considering all the obstacles we’ve had to overcome. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster and while we’ve had ups and downs, I’ve loved every minute and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m feeling proud and either way I think I will feel really happy to know that we’ve given it absolutely everything, left nothing behind, and achieved all that we possibly could.”