Eleanor Masey-McMenamin, a veterinary physiotherapy student at Harper Adams University, was working at Radnage House Stables in Buckinghamshire when the possibility of the unique trip first arose.
She said: “I was on an equine placement back in February, and one morning my employer came over and asked: 'Are you free to go to the Paralympics in Japan later this year?’
“Obviously, I said yes.”
Tamsin Addison – her placement employer and a world class Paralympic dressage rider – said: “Eleanor worked really hard during her placement at Radnage House, she learned a great deal about how to handle high level competition horses and what it takes to be successful on the International circuit.
“During her placement she was open to being taught and keen to practice new skills. She applied her new skills and grew in confidence as well as technical ability while she was with us.
“As a direct result, Eleanor took responsibility for travelling my top horse to the continent ahead of us flying out to a competition in Doha, there were a number of problems en route which Eleanor had to overcome.
“She made solid, good decisions making the best of everything and dealing with setbacks in a mature and professional manner. So when Team Ireland required a top notch groom to perform on the world stage Eleanor was the natural choice – I had no hesitation in putting her forward for the role.”
Eleanor’s role was to be a groom working for Team Ireland, first as the squad prepared to take part in this year’s games at their European hub, and then at the games themselves.
She added: “I was put down as a reserve for the squad at first, and then I got a call saying ‘make sure you’re ready as you are going to Japan'.
“I had to sort out a lot of Covid tests to travel, as you might expect – and then I flew out to Germany, where the teams were staying, before carrying on to Tokyo.”
Eleanor worked alongside the rest of Team Ireland and with the team’s grooms, checking that the horses were prepared and ready to compete.
Her duties included ensuring that riders, too, could perform at their best.
She said: “Obviously, in the Paralympics, my rider has disabilities – and so I had to make sure that she was able to get on the horse – to help prepare things, tell her what she needed to do and where she needed to be so she could just turn up and go.”
Despite the pandemic meaning a very different kind of games, Eleanor still found the experience both professionally and personally enriching.
She added: “Even though people said there would be a different atmosphere because of Covid, there was still definite pressure – the members of the other countries’ teams would all come out, and that meant it still felt like there was an audience there – it wasn’t people performing to an empty arena.
“It was a great opportunity which I am very grateful for – even with the 12-hour flight. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, when I look back on it I am almost happier to have done it during Covid – as any of the next ones are going to be a walk in the park after this.
“I really enjoyed the experience and if an opportunity like it comes through again, I’d definitely do it.”
Following her action-packed summer – and a placement year unlike any other – Eleanor is now back at Harper Adams, near Newport, where she is preparing for her fourth and final year at the university.