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If you know anything about the equestrian world, the chances are you have heard the name Lee Pearson banded around a few times. If you have no clue about horses, his name might still ring a bell or 2, especially if you like to watch the Olympics on TV when they come around.
Apart from collecting 10 gold medals in the Paralympic sport of Dressage, he’s also been awarded an MBE, CBE and OBE by the Queen, been airlifted with a broken back out of his Dad’s field and had Margaret Thatcher carry him up the stairs of 10 Downing St. Not bad for an ex-administrator from Staffordshire.
Not content with being selected to represent the UK at the Rio Olympic Games this year, he's now the official flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. We cornered him for a few mins to see what makes him tick...
Lee - first off, congrats on being chosen by Team GB to be the flag bearer at the opening ceremony today!
Being the Paralympics GB flag-bearer is something I could never have dreamed about - I may cry!
I have some toilet paper in my pocket, hang on...You must have incredible support from your team, friends and family. What’s that like?
I have a massive team and I can't mention anybody as an individual, but I promise without any member of the team, being able to train - never mind compete and be successful - would be a lot harder. I'm grateful for everybody's help. My mother, being such a lovely yet strong lady, is my inspiration.
Give me that toilet paper back, I need a bit. Many articles written about you say that you decided to pursue professional dressage after watching the Atlanta Olympics. Four years later, you won three gold medals in Sydney. What were those four years before Sydney like?
I had a career within administration so making the decision to end this career to take up a sport when you have such as severe disability as I do was quite a risk, so there was a lot of life changes and uncertainty! But I decided I'm only going to live once and I want it to be a good life, so I ignored any negativity around me and put all my efforts into qualifying for the Sydney Olympic 2000 games.
That right there, that's inspiration for you, folks. Wow. So how do you prepare in the days before a big competition?
I try to stay as chilled as possible and work on the finer details of my horses but without working them any harder as I want them to be their best at the competitions.
What qualities do you look for in your competition horses and have you a favourite type to ride?
I love all types of horses, and I love producing and improving all horses’ way of moving, but to be competitive I need a horse with the biggest walk I can find and an expressive trot. Having a horse that wants to work for you and is reasonably brave is also very important.
So, getting down to it, what do you love about Para-Dressage and how does it improve your life?
Dressage can be the most amazing feeling when you work as one with your equine partner, but it can also be very stressful when your partner hasn't read the book on dressage! But I love that it keeps me fit. The horse’s legs are my legs and it's a privilege to work with such amazing animals.
In 2011, you broke your back in a riding accident. Like you needed that. Did it make you consider giving up riding?
I did break my back in 4 places, but at no time did I feel that I would retire. All I wanted to know is when I could get back on a horse again!
Out of individual, team, and freestyle competitions, which is your favourite to ride and why?
Freestyle to music is my favourite as it's more personal to myself and my horse. As it's not linked to the team medal, it also means you can take more risks and show off a bit! It’s also a great opportunity to appreciate the public loving dressage at its best.
Right, my bus is here, I have to go. Quickly:
Beans and cheese on toast.
Nice. Favourite sport to watch that doesn't have a horse in it?
Nice. Do you have any pets besides horses?
Nearly a zoo.
Sweet. What three things would you bring with you to a deserted island?
WiFi, beans and a water filter.
Erm...ok. Favourite vacation spot?
Anywhere in the sun!
Cheers Lee - all the best and carry that flag like a boss.
Text by Misty Ashbrook
Photography by FEI & Social Media
As well as being an Olympic athlete and all-round good guy, he's also an ambassador for the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity - http://www.midlandsairambulance.com and Caudwell Kids - http://www.caudwellchildren.com