8 August 2018

Pearson thrilled to be back in the saddle and fighting for World Equestrian Games medals

Whatever you do, don’t call Sir Lee Pearson old.

A pipe and slippers are a long way off for the 44-year-old, who took six months off para-equestrian dressage in 2017 and was left driven to distraction.

Longing to return for a 20th year in his sport, a new set of challenges are already presenting themselves ahead of the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina next month.

Pearson will saddle up on Styletta, a home-bred horse whose championship debut will bring with it a fair share of fraught nerves - even for a rider who has seen it all.

“The fact it’s her first-ever championship adds a different dynamic; nerves, anxiety and of course excitement,” said the 11-time Paralympic medallist.

“It adds a lot of pressure and there’s going to be a big atmosphere out there, so fingers crossed she’ll be brave and behave herself.

“She’s very opinionated, but very, very talented and I know she’s fine with flying and competing abroad.

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Every day you get on a horse is a new challenge."

Sir Lee Pearson

“We train, care and pay for these horses for 365 days in the year and then you just pray they work with you for four and a half minutes.”

Pearson, from Staffordshire, spent six months away from competition seeking to develop the facilities at his home stable and working with Zion, his 2016 Paralympic partner.

In that time he watched Great Britain secured six golds at the European Championships in Gothenburg and several riders impress when deputising in his Grade II category.

The four-strong British team included three debutants, two of whom collected three gold medals each.

Spending time on the sidelines and seeing his potential successors plunder the international field has clearly sharpened Pearson’s intent to medal in Tryon, North Carolina.

“Having the time off was very strange, I won’t do it again because I missed being involved,” he said.

“Seeing the team go off without me was an odd concept, but it gave me the opportunity to focus on my young horses and Breezer, who I might compete in the future.

Pearson won Individual Freestyle gold at the 2016 Paralympic Games

“I think it made me a little bit more hungry. There are so many riders who have come into my grade and they are making me ride even more competitively.

“I don’t want the youngsters knocking me off my perch just yet!”

Tokyo 2020 is still very much the aim for Pearson – first inspired to take up the sport when watching the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics on TV.

His unique status in the movement was reflected in being voted by fellow athletes to be ParalympicsGB flagbearer four years ago in Rio.

Pearson admits his inspiring tale of Paralympic persistence has changed plenty of other lives, too, and helped foster the strength of competition he’s currently confronted with.

“Walking into the Maracana Stadium, my image went around the world and it was phenomenal experience,” he said.

“I’m a unique kind of character and for other athletes to appreciate me for who I am was humbling.

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I was just petrified of dropping the flag or being blown off my mobility scooter!"

Sir Lee Pearson

“The sport is changing as a result and getting very competitive – I’m not as secure in my position in the squad now because of the number of people who have taken up the sport.

“It still makes my life more competitive, but there’s a compliment in there from what we’ve done and who we’ve inspired.”

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