THE ECONOMIC downturn has claimed another casualty in Birdlip-based para dressage rider Simon Laurens, who has announced his retirement from international competition.
Simon cited ‘personal and financial reasons’ for his decision after a short but incredibly successful career.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004, Laurens earned a call-up to the GB para dressage team within two years and won medals at every major championship.
At the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, Simon won silver in the individual freestyle and team gold.
His winning streak continued through 2009 when he won three medals at the European Championships, and was named Disability Sports Personality of the Year at the Gloucestershire Media Sports Awards.
Laurens told the Standard: “With the economic climate as it is, it’s become financially impossible for me to continue with international para dressage.
“I’ve been lucky to have the support of UK Sport and the BEF, but with the costs make it a real struggle. At the moment there is no sponsorship, and I’m not the first person this has happened to.”
Simon was born in Jersey in 1967 and took up riding at the age of eight.
He progressed through gymkhana and show jumping with his 12hh palomino Champagne, who was purchased for the princely sum of £250. After many years of successful show jumping, Simon got his first taste for dressage when working with Gemma Green for nine years at her yard in Jersey.
Sadly, in 2004, he was diagnosed with MS, a debilitating disorder of the brain and spinal cord also suffered by his mother and grandmother.
Rather than give up on his love of riding, Simon pushed on with his dressage until he was eventually spotted by para-equestrian team selectors.
With his two horses, Ocean Dream and Ocean Diamond, Simon began to conquer both his demons and his rivals.
Simon credits much of his success to his long-term partner John Gamlin, whom he met in Cheltenham.
Despite being categorised as suffering from Parkinson’s Disease shortly after Simon’s own diagnosis, John helped hispartner to pursue a career in para dressage, even filling in entry forms on the sly so that Simon would attend competitions.
“Without John’s push and drive I would probably have taken to my bed and given up,” said Laurens, who relocated to Birdlip in 2007. The move followed months of soul-searching and fund- raising.
Simon and John sold off their home and business in Jersey, as well as Simon’s 2012 Olympic hopeful Erik, in a bid to generate income.
“Even after all this, things are still fairly grim and even with the money I receive from UK Sport, financially I just can’t do it anymore, I am mentally knackered.” said Simon.
He intends to continue his work promoting the Riding for the Disabled Association and the sport of para- dressage.
On Sunday he hosted ‘The Way Forward’, a para dressage day aimed at strengthening the relationship between British Dressage and the Riding for the Disabled Association.
Simon said of the event: “The majority of our top para riders have come through Riding for the Disabled. There are 25,000 registered RDA riders and yet only around 175 para riders registered with BD. I want to get the message out there that para dressage is not just about the top-end performance sport but about competition and training at any level.”
Simon may have retired from competing but he does not intend to sell his Olympic horse Derek (Ocean Diamond).
He will be put out on free loan until the economy has improved enough for him to return home and live out his later years with Simon and John at home.
Simon is pragmatic about his decision: “I’ve had a really good career; I’ve won gold medals at all the major championships. I just bit the bullet and decided it was right. I’m going to spend my time helping to raise the profile of the sport.”