British para-equestrian dressage rider Joanne Pitt has died at the age of 34.
Pitt, who represented Great Britain up to Paralympic level, was a regular Grade II national and international competitor with notable success. With her long term partner Estralita, owned by her parents Robert and Hazel Pitt, she claimed the Grade II title at British Dressage’s winter championships less than a month ago.
Pitt was being treated for a very rare lung condition, pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, and died peacefully on Thursday afternoon with her family beside her.
“Jo was a stalwart of para-equestrian dressage and has fought hard over the last year to establish herself once again as a real medal contender for Great Britain,” said British Equestrian Federation Equestrian Performance Director Will Connell.
“Jo made her Paralympic debut in Athens in 2004 and has remained part of the Equestrian World Class Programme ever since. On behalf of the whole of the World Class Programme I would like to extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to Jo’s family, fiancé and friends at this sad time. She will be fondly remembered and missed by the whole of the para-equestrian dressage and World Class Programme community.”
Pitt had right-sided hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which affected the feeling and mobility down her right side but that never stood in her way. She was hooked on horses after attending a 10-day summer holiday camp at Hayfield riding school when she was six. By the time she was eight, she had her own pony and joined The Pony Club. She was taught as an able-bodied rider, gained her Pony Club C plus test and went on to join a riding club.
In 1995, Pitt went to Oatridge Agricultural College in West Lothian, where she gained her NC and HNC in horse management. She passed her British Horse Society (BHS) stage 1 exam, but her disability stopped her from progressing further.
With Rockhill Kashmir she was selected for the 2004 Athens Paralympics as an individual, finishing equal eighth. In 2008, she found Estralita and they quickly developed a great partnership, being selected as reserves for the Beijing Paralympics that year. Her first team appearance was at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, taking bronze in the grade II freestyle test with 74.95% and they were part of the gold medal winning team with a score of 67.81%. The pair also placed sixth and seventh in the team and individual tests respectively.
She was disappointed not to be selected for the London Paralympics but as was her way, she set about discovering the previous form which had earned her team place. Pitt had moved from Aberdeen to Dereham in Norfolk to be with her fiancé Rory and his family and under the guidance of long-time trainer Michel Assouline and new coach Liza McQuistion, she worked tirelessly to improve.
So far in 2013, the combination won all but two classes from 12 starts including international victories in the team and individual classes at Deauville CPEDI3* in March and the Grade II title at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.
David Hunter, Para-Equestrian Dressage Performance Manager added: “First and foremost the thoughts of everyone in the GB Para Dressage Performance Squad are with Jo’s parents, her two sisters and her fiancé Rory. It is difficult to comprehend that ten days ago Jo was her fit and healthy self, training her horses each day and determined to make selection for the European Championships in August. She had started the competition season with renewed vigour and only five weeks ago was competing at a major international competition in Deauville, France. She had recently moved to Norfolk and had just moved into a new family home. She had everything going for her. She will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”
Amanda Bond, Chief Executive of British Dressage also paid tribute; “Everyone in the dressage community will be shocked and saddened by losing Jo so suddenly. She was an integral part of para dressage for so many years. Our hearts and prayers go to her family and friends, especially her parents Bob and Hazel who dedicated so much to their beloved daughter; no one was more proud each time she rode. Jo was someone who quietly got on with things and never let defeat or a run of bad form get her down. The way she came out fighting this season with renewed vigor should be an inspiration to all; her dogged determination to always improve will be a lasting memory of this special rider.”