Rosemary Gaffney on Werona, the horse she will ride at the Paralympic Games in Japan
A Clonmel woman who showed remarkable bravery to recover from horrific leg injuries that almost resulted in her leg being amputated will represent Ireland at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Rosemary Gaffney will compete in Para Dressage alongside Michael Murphy, Kate Kerr-Horan and Tamsin Addison at the games in Japan, which run from August 24-September 5.
Having come so close to being selected for the Paralympics in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, when she was a reserve on both Irish teams, it’s a case of third time lucky for Rosemary.
She says, “I’ve worn the bridesmaid’s dress enough now, I want to wear the white this time!”
Her journey to representing her country at the Paralympics has been a long and arduous one.
She displayed incredible courage to overcome adversity on two separate occasions, winning battles that are likely to have been tougher than anything she will ever encounter in the saddle.
An able-bodied dressage rider, Rosemary suffered her first injury setback in 2007 when she shattered her knee and broke her tibia and fibula while exercising her dressage horse at Kildalton College in Piltown, where she is the equine course director.
That came just weeks after she had performed a spectacular dressage demonstration at the Dublin Horse Show on the same horse, Mitdguard.
After a series of operations she returned to competition two years later, winning the National Medium Championship in Cavan.
Still experiencing difficulties with her leg, which had lost an amount of strength, it was suggested to her that she would put herself forward for classification with Para Equestrian Ireland.
Later that year she won the freestyle event at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, as well as being crowned grade four individual champion at the show.
Above: Rosemary Gaffney attributes her recoveries from serious leg injuries to the mantra "you never give up and you never give in."
She went on to compete at the European Para Equestrian Dressage championships in 2011 and 2013, but disaster struck again in January of 2014.
This time she had a fall while riding a young horse, suffering 40 breaks from her hip to her ankle in her “good” leg.
She underwent six operations in ten days and was mostly confined to bed for six months.
“The surgeon said my leg was like a car windscreen that had been shattered in a smash, and I was lucky to keep the leg,” says Rosemary, who lives in Piltown.
“I never thought I would get back riding again, let alone compete in the Paralympics. But I had a different attitude the following day and was okay.”
Just over a year later she was back competing on the international circuit, winning the freestyle on a personal best score of 74.55pc at the three-star show at Bishop Burton in Yorkshire.
“I’ve been very unfortunate and fortunate with injuries. At least there was another path I could go down. I have the mantra ‘you never give up and you never give in’”.
It’s an outlook that continually inspires the 75-80 students who enrol on the equine course in Kildalton College each year, where yard manager Aine Kearns, who has worked with her for 20 years, has also had a close-up view of Rosemary’s recoveries.
Former Kildalton student Shannon Acheson from Tramore will be Rosemary’s groom on what will be the trip of a lifetime to Japan.
At the Paralympics she will ride Werona, which is jointly owned by Rosemary and Susan Smallman.
Cahir woman Susan is her dressage trainer at home, having worked with her for the last 15 years, and also trains the Irish pony club eventing team.
Rosemary’s mother Kitty Gaffney ran the family’s well-known florist shop in Mitchel Street, Clonmel for many years, her sister Anne Marie Farrell taking over the business before it was eventually sold.
Her father Peter Gaffney was a musician who played with the legendary Mick Delahunty.
Rosemary flew out with the Irish team to Aachen in Germany last Friday for a training camp, with the horses having to isolate for ten days before travelling to Japan.
“It’s a wonderful honour to represent your country at any time and especially at the Olympics,” she says.
“It’s something that everybody dreams of doing. It should be a wonderful experience and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Having waited for so long makes it all the sweeter.”
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