Barbara Minneci: My Equestrian Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This two-time Paralympian and 2019 European Championships double bronze medalist explains some of the ways her life and riding has been impacted by the worldwide spread of the virus.

This is a unique and challenging time for everyone around the world. For our equestrian community, COVID-19 has cancelled shows, postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and closed barns, which prevents many of us from riding or even seeing our beloved horses. Perhaps it’s that last bit that hits the hardest. To help all of us get through this scary and unprecedented time, we’ve asked our Dressage Today friends from around the globe to share with us how they’re coping so we can be reminded that we’re all in this together. We’ll hear from friends in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, the United Kingdom and beyond and hope this encourages you to share with the DT family your secrets to getting through this difficult time. We hope everyone is safe and healthy. Much love from all of us at Dressage Today. Click here to find all of the articles within the series. In this article, we hear from Barbara Minneci of Belgium:

Soon after my return from the CPEDI in Doha, State of Qatar, the sunny mood we had there darkened. The COVID-19 crisis put all our carefully designed show plans toward the Paralympic Games in Tokyo [originally planned for 2020] to an abrupt and unplanned halt.

Barbara Minneci and Stuart (Photo by Silke Rottermann)

However, I know from my own life story that there are things much more important than training, competing and seeking the best possible results. COVID-19 put our public life in Belgium to an almost complete standstill since March 18, 2020. We are only allowed to leave our houses to shop the necessities and get items from the pharmacy, if needed, or for short walks.

That said, taking care of people who need help or animals is still allowed, which means I am still able to go to my two horses every morning like usual.

There is Stuart, my current competition horse, an 11-year-old Oldenburger gelding, and there is Baba, officially known as Barilla, my over 20-year-old Irish Cob mare whom I owe all my career and who accompanied me to two Paralympic Games.

For both there is no COVID-19. They require the usual attention, cuddles and exercise, which for Baba is walking from the stables to the field and putting her head down to graze.

But also in the stables, which is a boarding stable, there are restrictions we all have to follow and which put my own riding to an abrupt halt. You are only allowed to come on your own and do what is needed to take care of the horses. Now, only the horse owners are still allowed to come, but nobody is allowed to bring anybody along and everybody has to take a security distance of at least 1.50 meters. In the arenas themselves it was allowed to have two riders at the same time, but new info as of last week says we now are only allowed to work alone in the arena and hacks are not allowed anymore in order to keep the minimum time needed to look after the horses.

As a rider I am well informed about current rules and changes by the LEWB, which is the French speaking part of the Belgium federation, so I do not need to worry about not being up to date during this COVID-19 crisis.

For me it is no problem to take care of both my horses by myself. I am used to grooming them, preparing Stuart for work or bringing them to the fields on my own. Where COVID-19 regulations hit hard is my riding. Where I somehow had been able to mount my small Cob mare on my own by using a kind of pulley system, this turned out to be impossible with Stuart’s warmblood size. I need somebody’s support to get on and off him and this is forbidden after the COVID-19 rules.

So no riding at the moment for me. Instead Belgian trainer Nick van Laer who usually trains my horse once per week, comes over and does the job I am unable to do at the moment. That said, I can still longe Stuart, which I usually do and continue to do.

With the show circuit at a halt and the Paralympics, our big goal this year, postponed to 2021, training has not changed that much. I am still aiming to improve my horse’s way of going, his throughness, the steadiness of his correct frame and the sensitivity to react to my aids. Now, we have more time than expected to work on all these things without having to put them on a test soon. This has advantages and disadvantages. But one is for sure: We cannot change it and have to look ahead.

(Photo by Silke Rottermann)

The horses are luckily unaware of what is going on and enjoy the first rays of spring sunshine on their backs when they relax in their fields every day. Like usual, they give stability and mental balance to me, even more though now that I also worry for my parents to stay healthy and unaffected.

While in no way do I intend to compare myself to the professional riders in the field of dressage sport, I am a person who uses the time now that I spent a bit less time of the day with the horses, to sort out domestic things, which were always put aside before this virus.

I cannot remember that my house has ever seen so much tidying up, cleaning and sorting things than these past weeks. Now I even started cleaning the terrace!

Otherwise I try to stay fit and supple by doing some gym work every day and I also have a weak spot of crocheting teddy bears for which there is a bit more time now.






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