Canada’s Roberta Sheffield wasted no time returning to top form in her first international competition since the Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. The 41-year-old scored two victories during the CPEDI3* Keysoe International held from March 14 to 16, 2022, in Keysoe, Bedford, England.
In the Grade III Team test held on Monday, March 14, Sheffield earned a score of 71.941% to edge out Great Britain’s Emma Kent who posted a score of 70.353%. The following day, Sheffield was once again victorious over Kent, winning the Grade III Individual Championship test with a score of 71.235%. Sheffield’s partner is Fairuza, a 13-year-old bay mare whose breeding derives from the Dutch-bred Gelderlander carriage horse.
“We’ve had a really good start to the season,” said Sheffield who is based in Lincolnshire, England. “It was hard to get going; the weather has been bad, so we weren’t able to do any national shows in preparation for this international event. My horse, Fairuza, hasn’t been out since Tokyo. Her last appearance was a big, exciting party and she wanted a repeat this week. We had a few moments of tension, but it’s done her good to go to a four-day show so she had time to reacclimatize into the competition environment.”
In Wednesday’s Freestyle competition, Kent took the win with 73.020% to narrowly edge Sheffield into second place with 72.854%. Despite finishing runner-up, the score was the highest that Fairuza has achieved to date in FEI-sanctioned competition. Sheffield’s freestyle program featured a modern orchestral track called “Suns and Stars” and was produced by Avery Maude Dressage. Sheffield has an interesting connection to Avery Maude – the young British rider purchased her Rio Paralympic mount, Double Agent, and has successfully shown the horse in international dressage competition at the junior level.
“The music has a lovely, film score kind of feel,” described Sheffield. “It’s very atypical music for me. I usually love riding to rock music; I was a musician, a goth and grunge guitarist, before the disability took away my ability to do that. My horse is a powerful, strong horse and it’s been a journey trying to discover what music shows her best. She has big energy, but it’s feminine energy; she’s a powerful woman. We’re learning, and the judges seem to appreciate this softer side that we’re trying to create.”
Sheffield and Fairuza have formed a winning partnership that’s now been seven years in the making. When Sheffield purchased the mare in 2015, she was a six-year-old that hadn’t been handled.
“I bought her as a project, thinking I would develop her and sell her to help finance my next superstar, but she had other ideas and turned into that superstar for me!” said Sheffield. “She is the most incredible, high-octane, honest horse you can have. She is so high energy and wants to do whatever you want her to do. Most of our training is about getting her to not give too much. She’s taught me so much, learning how to channel her exuberance. Since she’s come on side, she’s just flown. Her willingness makes up for anything else that she’s lacking. She’s very much the Gelderlander horse with big ears and a high tail and it seems that the judges are learning to trust her in the ring and enjoy watching her.”
“I was very pleased with the scores, they were just a touch off personal bests in each technical test,” continued Sheffield, whose personal best in the Grade III team test, a score of 72%, came at the Paralympics in Tokyo. “Given the sub-optimal preparation, we’ve had a good show and all my scores well and truly exceed the selection criteria for the team for the World Championships. The personal best that I achieved in Tokyo was a special result due to such great preparation, support, and atmosphere that lifted me up.
“The bigger and shinier the show, the more I love doing it,” continued Sheffield whose mother is Canadian, giving her dual citizenship with Canada and the United Kingdom. “This is a more homely show, in the UK, near where I’m based, and it’s harder to produce that ball of performance energy. It’s soggy, rainy, and grey here in England, and it’s hard to get excited. I don’t have my Equestrian Canada team of Christine Peters, Clive Milkins, James Hood, and Dr. Alan Manning around me. I don’t have anyone else’s energy to feed off of. It’s been a real test of my mental game trying to create that performance energy to show off in the ring.”
In anticipation of representing Canada at the upcoming 2022 World Championships in Herning, Denmark, Sheffield has planned a European tour that will include competing at CPEDI3* Deauville, France, from April 1 to 3 followed by CPEDI3* events in Waregem, Belgium, and Mannheim, Germany. Sheffield has previously represented at the past two World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, and Tryon, North Carolina, as well as the 2016 and 2020 Paralympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Tokyo, Japan, respectively.
“I would like to send massive thank yous to my sponsors, owners, and to Clive,” said Sheffield of Equestrian Canada’s Para-Dressage High Performance Program Technical Leader. “Clive has been a real support to me throughout this competition via WhatsApp. Even at a distance, he’s still there for us. I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of the Canadian team, that we work separately but cohesively over distance.”