When a friendship finds success

Beck Webber and Zac are the essence of true friends; they are there for each other, help each other and support each other unconditionally. The fact that she is a person, and he is a retired thoroughbred makes little difference. 

Their partnership, albeit a new one, was formed through Equine Pathways Australia (EPA) in March 2023 and has seen the pair significantly progress in the area of para dressage and as a result win this year’s EPA Racing Victoria Limited Off The Track (OTT) award. The award recognises an OTT thoroughbred and its rider who have shown competition results, personal development, improvement in training and contributed to the EPA program.

“I was absolutely not expecting it at all, it was a massive surprise,” Ms Webber said. 

“I actually felt very overwhelmed and was crying throughout my speech and didn’t get to tell anyone how great Zac actually is.”

EPA is a not-for-profit organisation founded by Julia Battams that provides pathways for people with injury, illness or disability to engage in equestrian sport. 

Ms Webber was diagnosed at the end of 2020 with a particularly rare genetic degenerative disorder, spinocerebellar ataxia, which is a condition that mainly affects the cerebellum (a vital component in the human brain that plays a role in motor movement regulation and balance control.)

After the initial shock of being diagnosed Ms Webber, who lives west of King Lake, completed an EPA clinic and has not put the reins down since. 

“I love being a part of the EPA family,” she said. 

“We celebrate our triumphs together and have each other’s backs when tragedy occurs. The whole EPA world have given me the confidence to take part in para dressage and there’s just so much support there - it’s just amazing.”

In addition to the people, Ms Webber is also highly appreciative of her horse Zac who raced under the name Liberty Prince (Statue of Liberty x Zattica).

“He has the kindest, softest eyes and we have built a beautiful connection,” she said. 

“He gives me a reason to get up in the morning and gives me drive and purpose and has really helped with my confidence. 

"I’m actually more stable on a horse than I am on the ground and he’s a really fantastic partner to have.”
As Ms Webber’s condition continues to worsen, she has relied on Zac even more. 

“I have no peripheral vision, my hearing is deteriorating and I can’t wear spurs, so I’ve taught him voice commands like ‘over’, ‘soft’ and ‘walk on’ so that we can get the best out of each other. 

“He’s a very good listener and willing partner and we haven’t even been working together for that long, he’s the best.”

EPA, which was founded in 2017, was created from the need for a structured program for people with disability or recovering from illness or injury to engage with or return to equine pursuits. The national charity currently has 250 participants on the books but has assisted many more across Australia in since its conception. 

Ms Battams’ aim was always to create a culture that was inclusive and supportive. 

“EPA has always been about our athletes celebrating each other’s ‘gold medal’ moments. For some this may be an actual gold medal, but for others it may be going on their first trail ride,” she said.

“It’s about everyone enjoying their journey and celebrating the journey of everyone else.”

Ms Battams, who had previously worked for Equestrian Australia, is passionate about ensuring that each participant develops independence and the ability to ride at whatever level they choose to. 

“I actually don’t see the participants as a group of people with disabilities, I see them as a group of athletes who are serious about achieving their goals,” she said. 

“They all work so hard and whilst some are contending for a spot in the upcoming Paris Paralympics, others will be cheering them on either there or from home. We are all about rewarding everyone’s success.”

Beck also has Paralympic dreams in para dressage and has set her sights on the 2028 Paralympics to be held in Los Angeles. 

“My goal is definitely to compete in para dressage in 2028, but it’s a tough gig. There are only about four slots available in five grades, but for me it’s always been about the journey and that’s what I like,” she said.

“Beck nails her goals each and every time I see her. We catch up about once a month and set small goals and she does whatever you tell her - it’s just fantastic,” Ms Battams said. 

Beck is particularly grateful for both Julia and EPA and what it has brought to her. 

“EPA has changed my life,” she said.

“It’s given me a reason to get up and keep going and has given me drive and purpose and I love the coaching aspect and the social aspect - it’s all been very special.”

To find out more about Equine Pathways please visit: Home - EQUINE PATHWAYS AUSTRALIA