As some of you may know it is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination . This inspired me to write this blog about diversity in the equestrian world.
When I tell people I enjoy going horse riding some are very surprised not just by the fact I ride and have a disability but also because of the colour of my skin. People sometimes tell me “ I didn’t realise people of your ethnicity took part in this sport”.
They get even more confused when they see me with my family. I am Indian but at 3 months old I was adopted by a English couple who lived in India. They then had a biological daughter so people get confused when I say “and this is my younger sister”. Over the years I’ve had people stare at me when I’m out with my family in public. Sometimes I forget that I’m a different ethnicity from my family to me it’s my normal!
The equestrian world is really lacking in diversity . I think a big aspect of why this is the cause is because of how low the awareness in this sport. People in the past have said and made comments that they thought this sport is not a sport for some like me which really isn’t the case.
We need more role models in the sport. We need someone who is relatable to people. If people see someone from the same background or similar they feel they can relate to that person. To help show how this sport isn’t just for one type of person we need to change perceptions.
I believe Riding for the Disabled challenges perceptions constantly because when I talk to people about the fact I ride with the RDA many people haven’t actually heard of this amazing charity. So I love telling them how special, valuable and life changing it is!
When people see someone like me. They can see that I can ride. I want to help encourage others to give this sport a try despite society’s labels and their are others like me taking part in the sport. This helps to break down the barriers this sport has.
One person breaking down these barriers now is Reece McCook, founder of online campaign Ride Out Racism.
Everyone should feel that it is possible for them to join and achieve great things in this sport. We need to inspire each other to join and participate in this sport and in our community. You never know who could be the top riders of our future let’s break down these barriers together, this sport is for everyone!
Recently at the stables we have had a new resident join our RDA family. A very lovely and friendly pony called Duke. I have been helping to train him in some of my riding lessons.
At the moment when the weathers not too hot and we are not going for hacks around the woods enjoying the sunshine and keeping cool. I am doing a lot of work with him going round corners and doing things like circles as he loves to lean onto my helper and ask for hugs and kisses all the time.
When riding Duke I notice I tend to go over to the left side more so we’ve been working a lot on straightness. This has really helped me to stay in the middle of the saddle and I find he responds better to me when walking straight compared to when we do work in the school involving doing circles or going in and out of cones.
I have found that if I do some pole work with him trying to make sure he is straight and not drifting this can really help him to make sure he picks up his legs and doesn’t trip or lose his balance as much. He finds balancing quite hard but we’re working on it.
What’s really lovely about him is that he always wants to try his best and wants to learn.
Due to the hot weather recently I have not been doing work with him in the school but going out for hacks in the woods instead. Going out in the woods I have found has really helped him to stay more straight and not drift so much. This has helped me a lot with keeping in the middle and not sitting to one side. As well as this when we go on hacks sometimes the horses and ponies might see something they are not used to like a ladder. So when gong out I have been able to show Duke things he might not have seen before whilst giving me lots of positive reinsurance .
I have found helping to train Duke very interesting as I also helped to train Billy when he first joined. It’s interesting how even though Duke is slightly older than Billy I need to work with him more on tasks Billy found more easy in the beginning when he first joined such as not drifting towards the helper or staying on the track.
I really enjoy riding Duke he’s so gentle and friendly and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things he will achieve in the years to come!
As some of you may know recently Riding for the Disabled launched their 50 Faces Campaign. I am very lucky and pleased to say I am part of for this campaign. So this got me thinking about how my horse riding and love for horses journey began.
The first time I sat on a horse I was terrified. I only managed a few steps and then just had to get off. You wouldn’t believe me now if I told you. I love going horse riding I look forward to my Saturday morning lessons like mad. I would ride everyday if I could! Going horse riding helps me to stay and be more positive I have found that horse riding and just being with the horses and ponies really does wonders to positively impacting on my mental health.
Just been out on a hack with King.
One primary school holiday I did try horse riding again with Camp Mohawk at a nearby stables to the centre.I remember doing a bit of trotting for the first time with a leader and our riding instructor. When my parents came to lead me around the hacks we would go on. After the summer holidays I decided that I wanted to do weekly lessons at the stables as I enjoyed it so much. At that stables I normally would ride Candy or King. King was a very naughty Pony!
One of my first lessons on Anya.
Whilst riding at this stables my mum came across Riding for the Disabled Association and put me on the waiting list. It was lovely when we got a phone call from South Bucks RDA asking if I would like to come for an assessment as I had been on the waiting list for a very long time. I remember on the way to the stables I was so excited but when I got there I didn’t want to get on. After a bit of persuading I got on and I’m so happy and glad I did. The first pony I ever rode at South Bucks RDA was called Barbie she was lovely by the end of the assessment I didn’t want to get off!
And that’s when amazing life changing journey with horses and ponies started. Since that first assessment I have achieved things I never thought would be possible. Horse riding has helped my self esteem and confidence massively. From doing The Countryside Challange and Dressage Competitions at Regional and National level, doing horse riding and horse care as part of my Short Course PE GCSE to meeting Princess Anne!
Rosette from The Countryside Challange 2011.
National Championships with Bonnie 2012.
RDA massively helped me when I was getting bullied. The horses and ponies are like my best friends and I trust them more than people! When I went horse riding I could just forget about the things happening at school. I felt safe and it is a place where I can focus on what I can do and it’s not about what I can’t do. I love all the horses and ponies at RDA with all their different personalities. I have grown a massive bond with the horses and ponies at RDA I call them my Saturday morning pets! The bond between horse and rider is so beautiful, unique and powerful theirs nothing else quite like it!
RDA isn’t just a place where I go riding every week it’s a family. All the grooms and volunteers are amazing without them I wouldn’t of been able to achieve what I have! RDA changed my life and continues too I don’t think I’d still be here if it wasn’t for the RDA. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Bryony started with the South Bucks branch of Riding for the Disabled (RDA) from the age of 8. As her Dad, I’ve got a lot of pleasure seeing how they have helped her overcome some of her problems whilst riding.
But before we get into that, I must confess that sometime in the last century I was also a keen horse rider: my mum had a horse called Blaze and, given her back problems, I became Blaze’s main rider for a few years. I mucked him out (sometimes), I prepared him for shows and won a few rosettes at the local Pony Club Events.
But while the few photos I have are of show events, my memories are quite different. I remember the togetherness of riding him over a round of small jumps with no saddle and no bridle (although I don’t remember how!). And my best memories are of sitting on his back revising for my “O” levels while he grazed on the grass in our small paddock. The type of togetherness that can bind man and animal, or, in this case, boy and horse. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school and Blaze was probably my best friend that summer.
So I can easily understand how the RDA has helped Bryony, how it continues to help, and hopefully help in the future. Her 45 minutes every Saturday morning are one of the top highlights of the week as she becomes a very different person. She becomes much more confident and self-assured, almost literally discarding her other issues as she gets on her horse at mid-day on Saturday. Her horse, whether it be Mabel or Billy, senses that Bryony is in charge. The horse may be led (usually by Hazel), but Bryony is definitely the boss. Her concentration is evident to us, her family, but we see something others don’t. We see that the issues and concerns that are very visible for most of the week are simply not there once she is riding. No-one is threatening her, or making fun of her, and that is clear from her appearance and confidence on the horse. I can’t remember when we last saw her have a fit on the horse, whilst she continues to have such episodes at home when she is not on a horse. Maybe it is the girl/horse relationship, maybe it is the nurturing and care of RDA staff, or more likely it is both of these. As Bryony puts it: the RDA is a second caring family to her and that’s an amazing thing to have when one is six foot up in the air on a very strong four-legged animal!
Bryony started this blog last year and we both hope that while it helps her, it can also help its readers, and can help others discover the pleasures – and very real benefits – provided by the RDA.
On the 30th March 2019 I went into London with my dad for a workshop all about The Art of Vlogging. This workshop was ran by The Media Trust. The Riding for the Disabled invited me to this workshop as everyone coming to the workshop was involved with Riding for the Disabled in some way.
When I first tried to do a vlog it felt really strange and weird talking to a camera. However as the day went on it became much more easier for me to do.
Throughout the day we learnt about how to do our own vlogs from brainstorming ideas to how to film on our phones and then learning about how to edit our videos on apps such as iMovie.
We learnt about how to film correctly making landscape videos. As well as how to use natural lighting correctly and effectively in our videos . I also learnt about how you can create the mood for your videos using colours and objects in your background and how to link the background with the theme of your video to help tell the story or message of your video to your audience.
Whilst doing this workshop I also learnt about how you can use an online presence to help others in a more positive way and how media platforms like YouTube can help share your stories and experiences to potentially a much wider audience.
Once we finished making and editing our videos I then learnt a little bit about how to make others aware and interested in your YouTube Channel content.
I loved going to this workshop and meeting some amazing people. From going to this workshop it has definitely made me want to create more videos and start my own YouTube Channel. I found doing the whole process of making a video for others to watch a very creative process too which I really enjoyed as I love being creative.
I was about 8 or 9 when I started horse riding at my local RDA Centre; I am now 20 years old. Through my time horse riding with the RDA I have found that riding isn’t just something I love to do and I look forward to it during the week. It has helped me in many different ways: one of the big ways it has helped me is with my disability.
When I was younger, horse riding was great physiotherapy for me. It was also very clever because I enjoyed it so much I didn’t see it as having to do my daily stretches and exercises my physiotherapist gave me.
Over the years horse riding has helped me build up my muscles and core strength. Horse riding has helped me to improve my balance massively. I remember when I first started riding and my instructor got us to do lots of different activities to help not only build up confidence and communication skills but to also make sure we were working our muscles safely. For example we had to do activities siting on bean bags or balancing a bean bag on our riding hat and try and make sure it didn’t fall off. This helped me to develop better posture in everyday life. At school I used to have problems writing and making sure my posture at the table was good or when I was eating a meal. I found that over time horse riding really helped me to develop better posture and now I can do tasks so much more easily. Doing this also helped me to see if I was sitting properly on the pony. If the bean bag fell off I learnt that my balance was not even and that I was sitting too far over on one side.
Horse riding has helped and continues to help me with my visual perception. I find seeing shapes challenging and this can be confusing. In my lessons I do a lot of work on riding circles evenly as I can sometimes make one side of my circle a lot bigger than the other. During my lessons I may change the rein and to do this I have to ride diagonally across the riding school so now I understand more about what a diagonal is.
Horse riding helps me with my spatial awareness and planning as I have to take into account the other horses and ponies in the school. For example I have to make sure if we are all lined up behind each other that we leave a safe distance between each of us. As well as this sometimes some of the horses and ponies in the class don’t get on very well so we may need to prepare more about who we chose to stand behind. As well as this in some of the activities we do, we may have to halt between cones or on “X” so I need to prepare my halt in advance and make sure my legs are forward and that I am sitting back into the saddle and don’t tip forward.
Lastly going horse riding at the RDA has helped me to feel less alone and not to feel ashamed of who I am because at school other kids bullied me because of my disability. When I’m at RDA I feel accepted and I can be myself.
At the moment I am helping to train the youngest pony at the stables: he is called Billy.
In my horse riding lessons I have worked with him a lot. He has now got so much better doing work in the school with other horses and ponies being in the same arena as him. I have done quite a lot of with him to improve his circles and also making sure he is on the track and goes into the corners. With Billy I do have to work more on making sure he is listening to me as he gets easily distracted and likes to look out of the school doors and see what’s going on.
Recently Billy and I took part in a dressage competition with Dressage Anywhere.This was Billy’s first ever time competing in a dressage competition.
On the day of the dressage competition Billy was fantastic. He was very curious and did enjoy looking at himself in the mirror at times. He was also very interested in the video camera. We joke a lot and say that we think Billy quite fancies being a model. During our dressage routine Billy did amazingly: he was alert but also listening to me. He seemed to take everything in his stride. I was so proud of him especially because it was his first ever dressage competition, so I wasn’t sure how he would react to doing things in the school by himself with no other horses or ponies around with him.
Here is a small clip of different things we did for our dressage.
Billy and I came 1st in the dressage competition which was brilliant: we scored 71.39%. I am so proud of him and how far he has come in such a short space of time. He really is a pot of gold!
One of my very first riding lessons at RDA. Here I am riding the beautiful Anya.
one of my very first horse riding lessons at RDA riding the beautiful Anya.
I was first bullied in primary school however when I went into secondary school the bullying got a lot worse and on a whole new level. I was getting bullied physically, verbally and online. The thing was I wasn’t just being bullied by people in my Year I was also being bullied by the kids in the older and younger years too. I felt like I just couldn’t escape from it; I was always on edge waiting for the next horrible thing to happen. I felt suicidal it felt like I was living in darkness with no light. When I would come back from school in tears their where days I would cry myself to sleep and wish I wouldn’t wake up.
However there was one place I went to in the week were I just felt so happy, safe and not scared; that special place was going to my local RDA stables for my horse riding lessons. I would look forward to my Saturday horse riding lessons like crazy and when the bad things happened I would just try to think about the amazing horses and ponies at RDA.
There were days when I didn’t want to go horse riding because I was so upset and down from what was happening at school. Sometimes I didn’t think I deserved to go horse riding as the bullies made me feel like a horrible person; who deserved the things that would happen to me daily at school.
Forrester all tacked up ready for his lesson.
In spite of everything when I got to the stables and onto one of the ponies or horses everything changed for the better; I was able to forget about all the horrible things that were happening at school for a few minutes a week. The horses and ponies really helped me to feel like I was good at something. They made me feel that I was needed as they needed to be exercised. The horses and ponies also helped me a lot as I didn’t feel judge by them in anyway, they just accepted me for me and that was amazing in fact they still do!
I remember when I used to do trotting in my lessons, when I was doing trotting I would try and use it to help me to move on from the things I was having done to me during that week at school. Before trotting I wold think about the horrible things that week and then when I got the pony or horse to trot I would try and imagine trotting those experiences away and forgetting about them. I found this a really helpful coping strategy because I would tell teachers about what was happening but nothing was done about it.
The horses and ponies, grooms, riding instructors and other volunteers are all incredible. I don’t know what I would have done or where I would be now if it wasn’t for this amazing charity;that has helped me get through one of the hardest and most painful times in my life, SO THANK YOU!
Billy is a young pony that loves to look around and be the first one to know what’s going on. He is a very sweet curious boy. I love riding him; I fell in love with riding him the first ever lesson we had together. There’s nothing quite like the bond between a pony and its rider.
Recently I was riding Billy in one of my lessons when we went out on a hack in the woods. Riding him now made me think about how far he has come from being the new little boy at the stables. I remember when I first started to ride him last year helping with his training. I helped him learn the ropes of working as an RDA pony.
In the beginning I worked with Billy a lot to try and improve his focus so that he didn’t look out of the riding school as much. He is now so much better but he wouldn’t be him if he wasn’t just a little bit nosey. Billy and I have done lots of work together practising 10 metre circles, doing loops and going in and out of cones. I then started to put halts in to make sure he was listening to me but also to keep him interested and engaged in lessons.
When I go horse riding I do have a lead helper however sometimes I do go off the lead rope. Billy and I have done a couple of loops of the riding school off the lead rope together. I have worked with Billy to make sure he stays on the track and goes into the corners. As well as being able to change of rein in the school with other horses and ponies in the school too without him getting distracted or confused or putting his ears back to to the other ponies and horses.
I’m so proud of Billy and how far he has come. He is now able to be ridden by lots more people. He still sometimes forgets to lift up his feet. I love seeing him learn new things. I love that more people get to ride him now; this fills me with joy knowing that others will love and enjoy riding him too. He is definitely a brilliant and sweet addition to the RDA family!
I can’t wait to ride him again soon and too see what he achieves in years to come!
Lambrusco was one of the very first horses I ever did a horse riding lesson on. I remember the first time I got on him and I could really feel the difference of how high up I was on him compared to the lovely ponies I had been riding before. I was very excited to ride him because I found out that he was a Paralympic horse he went to Beijing with Paralympian Sophie Christiansen.
As the lessons went on I began to forget about how high up I felt and started to fall in love with his kind, caring sweet nature. I have done a couple of Countryside Challenge Competitions with him. Recently Lambrusco and I did a demonstration of The Countryside Challenge Course.
Here is a video of Lambrusco and I doing the demonstration .
Over the years Lambrusco has helped me to build up my confidence and self -esteem. Through doing activities such as doing activities not using the reins or changing the rein and doing 20 metre circles in my lessons which I found tricky the achievements I would have in my lessons would help me to forget about the difficult things going on during the past week.
I sometimes call Lambrusco the big friendly giant or an old teddy bear or old wise man just because of his friendly, calm and inquisitive manner.
I’m so pleased that Lambrusco won this award this year, very well deserved!
I know Lambrusco has helped so many other riders and will continue to do so; he is definitely one very special horse!