On 20th September 2018, Ruth Montgomery and Eloise Garland travelled to Tryon in North Carolina to meet with world-class Paralympian Laurentia Tan at the World Equestrian Games (WEG), where she was competing in the grade 1 para-dressage competition. Laurentia had won the silver medal in the individual championship earlier in the week and would be competing in the freestyle competition on Saturday the 24th. While at WEG, Ruth and Eloise were able to see the competition process at an international level and talk with Laurentia about her experiences as the only international-level Deaf para-dressage rider in the world.

In an initial discussion with Ruth, Laurentia explained that there are three categories in dressage – the first two (individual championship and team championship) do not have any musical accompaniment; however, the third category, freestyle, requires the rider to perform a floorplan to music, and is the category that Laurentia finds challenging due to her profound deafness:

“[In freestyle] you have to match the music. But I’m deaf… I can’t tell when it’s the right time to slow down or speed up or do a movement. So I focus on the horse… I focus on the technical aspects. If I don’t match the music – tough! It means it’s possible that my score will be lower.”

At WEG, Laurentia rode to a piece that was specifically composed for her by Dressage composer Tom Hunt. Laurentia had asked Tom to keep the music relatively simple with no sudden changes and had sent him a video of her floorplan for him to analyse and find a matching tempo. As she had no knowledge of the various elements of music, Laurentia trusted Tom to write accordingly.

However, she came seventh out of eight and was disappointed. She felt that her horse, Sherlock, was unsettled which disrupted the performance and affected the marks. Others who achieved higher marks had competed to the likes of Ravel’s Bolero and themes from Forrest Gump.

During the competition, Laurentia had the help of a Sign Language Interpreter, stood next to a judge, to signal when the music had started and ended. However, she feels that this doesn’t give her adequate access to the music during a performance or competition:

“I feel that there is technology out there that can help me to feel the music, but I just don’t know what there is. Or if I could have a live orchestra there so I could see what they were doing in real-time, that would be amazing!”

In response to being asked how she feels about learning more about music by working with professional musicians including Tom Hunt and Dame Evelyn Glennie, Laurentia said “Fantastic! I’m so excited! Being able to access the music will definitely support me with how I steer my horse.”