HORSES are Angela Lyons’ life. They’re the reason she drags herself out of bed on mornings when the pain of rheumatoid arthritis threatens to overwhelm her.
They’re the reason she refused to let herself be overwhelmed by the postponement of last year’s Paralympic Games or the difficulties that Covid-19 poses for this year’s Games.
“My horses, Rio and Tommy, don’t understand the pandemic and they expect you to look after them regardless of how you are feeling,” laughs Angela.
As Munster’s only para-equestrian rider, Angela, from Tower, doesn’t dwell on the fact that rheumatoid arthritis has a severe effect on her joints, or that she suffers from acute nerve and muscle damage in one leg.
“Throughout the pandemic, anyone who has animals to care for, whether they be horses, dogs or whatever, are so happy, because the animals give you a sense of purpose,” Angela acknowledges.
She and her beloved husband Steve also have two rescue dogs, Scout and Rocky, which they adopted from the Cork Dog Action Welfare Group (DAWG).
It’s clear that Angela’s first horse, known as Rio, or Latino J, to give him his proper title, has a very special place in her heart. The pair proved a great duo in advanced level para-equestrian dressage.
Having reached the grand old age of 30, Rio is now enjoying his well deserved retirement. While he was the boy next door type of horse, Angela’s current horse is more of a handsome devil with attitude. His official name is Woodcroft Santa Cruz, but Angela calls him Tommy, as a nod to Tom Cruise.
She was pleased with Tommy’s performance at the recent Paralympic selection trials for Irish-based riders at Greenogue Equestrian in Rathcoole, Co. Dublin.
The Paralympic Games, which cater for world class athletes with a disability, are scheduled to run from August 24 to September 5 in Tokyo, Japan.
“It was a bit surreal as we had to ride our test in front of a camera and we were judged virtually by four five star Para Equestrian judges from the UK and Europe due to the Covid restrictions,” points out Angela.
“It’s an honour to be nominated to try out for selection, especially as Tommy and I have worked up through the dressage levels togethera.
“In all, there were ten combinations of horse and rider trying out, with only two individual spots available for the Games.
“Tommy went well and got good scores against more experienced horses,” Angela adds.
“I remain realistic but optimistic about our chances. I’m looking forward to our next trials on May 8 and 9.
“I’m doing what I love anyway so if I don’t get to this year’s Paralympics, I’ll still be going to try and compete locally, nationally and internationally when the restrictions are lifted,” said Angela.
“I live by doing goals. You aim for one thing, and if that falls apart or if something goes wrong, you aim for another one.
“If Tokyo doesn’t go ahead for me, I’ll be aiming for the European and World Championships.
“The 2024 Paris Paralympics are starting to look very attractive and would be much easier to get to,” laughs Angela.
Always a glass half full type of person, the Tower woman doesn’t see the past year as a write off, either for herself or for Tommy.
“We had a very definite plan in place for Tommy last year but then, like everyone else, he put on the Covid stone. The year off was good for Tommy because it was a good chance to train without having to compete.
“There were no chasing qualifiers, no pressure, no stress, and it brought you back to why you started horse riding in the first place,” says Angela.
For all that, Angela misses taking part in competitions. However the fact that she is on immunosuppressant drugs for her rheumatoid arthritis puts her at higher risk in relation to Covid-I9.
“I would be very wary of going out to Tokyo without having the vaccine. You don’t know how you’d react if you got the virus.
“You could be one of the lucky or unlucky ones and you don’t want to be responsible for giving it to someone else, like my mother who is 85,” says Angela.
“The medication I’m on for rheumatoid arthritis is keeping me stable but the condition flares sometimes.
“It’s a question of managing every day, and some days are better than others. The cold affects it and so can very hot weather.”
If Angela does get to go to this year’s Paralympics, she will be accompanied, as ever, by Steve, who will have responsibility for Tommy’s grooming and overall handling.
“We’re very much a team. I couldn’t do it without my husband,” she says.