Philippa Johnson-Dwyer

Philippa Johnson-Dwyer (9 Dec 1974), a para-equestrian rider, was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. She loves South Africa, though her biggest passion “horse riding” brought her to Belgium in 2003 where she found her horse-soulmate, Benedict, and trainer Chris Haazen.

In October of 1998 Philippa was involved in an accident leaving her partially disabled. She lost the use of her right arm and 60% of the strength in her right leg. But no-one could stop her from riding. She always had her eye on competing internationally but after the accident had to re-learn from the beginning.

She in deed learned to ride again, and although it was tough, within a year she was back in the show ring. Not long after returning to competition, another unfortunate accident occurred. Just a day before the second competition she tried to mount her horse without help, lost her balance, fell, and broke her back.

In spite of all negative advice from her doctors, she got back in the saddle. Philippa always says: “Don’t allow anyone to put limits on your dreams”. And she made her dreams come true. With the help of her South-African coach Katrine Puttick, who helped her during the whole process, and it worked. She became a successful international para-equestrian rider who competes at grade IV. In 2002 she travelled to Belgium with the South African team and her coach Katrine, for an international para-equestrian competition held in Moorsele. On this trip, Philippa met 9 year old, Benedict, and it was love at first site.

From 2003 Philippa and Benedict, with trainer Chris Haazen, prepared for the Paralympics in Athens with a goal to place in the first five finalists. She and her team realized this in 2004 when she won silver, twice. From here Philippa made the decision to stay in Europe and prepare for Hong Kong 2008 where she won the first equestrian gold medal ever for South Africa. SA history was further made as it was the first time that South Africa had sent a complete equestrian team to the Paralympics.

Philippa has since added two more competition horses, Verdi and Lord Louis, to her team while Benedict is enjoying his well deserved retirement. Her next goal is to ride at able bodied Grand Prix level in Europe and she is well on her way, already competing well in the Prix St. George classes. Philippa is proud of her home country and wants to represent South Africa in dressage all over the world.

She also found romantic love in the arena. Her Irish husband, James Dwyer, is also a para-dressage medallist and together they train others in the sport. It took them about eight years after their first meeting to finally date and she thought he was married and not interested. But eventually the pair found each other.


1. What’s your biggest achievement / Something you’re proud of yourself for?

For me it’s winning the first ever Olympic/Paralympic medals in Equestrian sport in South Africa. I won 2 silver medals in the 2004 Athens Paralympics and then 2 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Paralmpics!! I remember a Russian rider coming to me after my gold medals and thanking me and at the time I didn’t understand until she told me I had given her hope. If someone could come all the way from South Africa and still achieve my goal she could also do it!

2. What’s your biggest fear / something that holds you back?

I always doubt myself and on a bigger scale I doubt my ability. It has always been a huge stumbling block for me and I know it’s something that holds me back. I am trying to work on it!!

3. What’s your biggest contribution / Something you like to share?

“I’ve always said: “Never let anyone put limits on your dreams”. After my accident the doctors told me I would never ride again. How dare they? They didn’t know me as a person or what drives me, so who is to say what I can and can’t achieve? If you can dream something, you can do it and it may not be easy but nothing in life that is easy is worth it!!”

Fun Fact:

My mother wanted me to be a ballet dancer.”

Thank you for being you!

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