Becoming a para rider: building confidence and getting trotting

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Para rider Sallyanne gets us up to date on her progress – how she’s getting on with her new specially-made saddle, and working on trotting with Flynn.

As those of you who have followed my blog over the last year will know, I have been progressing slowly with para riding. It is actually so much harder than I thought it would be.

I am a 45 year old mum of two who was involved in a horse riding accident in October 2015. This accident left me with a broken back and spinal injury. After six months in hospital I was eager to go home and begin my new life as a paraplegic, learning to accept a very different life than I had before.

Straight after my accident I always knew I wanted to get back on the saddle but I actually had no idea how hard this was going to be. Accessing information about the para horse industry, assessment and classification has been extremely difficult.

It took me about a year to get assessed for a classification grade, to be allowed to ride at the RDA even just on the simulator, and join British Dressage. I have worked tirelessly to start to achieve my dream of riding at Para Dressage. Perhaps now things are coming together a little.

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Super Flynn

I’ve had amazing support from my trainer Beth Miller BHSII who also owns Super Flynn the horse I am riding. Flynn is a 15.3 Connemara with the patience of a saint! Well actually he is very cheeky, but under the saddle he excels with how in tuned he is to me, I am so lucky to be able to ride him.

We have spent a long time desensitising Flynn to the para rider hoist of which we have two – one on the lorry and one next to the arena. Flynn took all this training in his stride. At this point we needed about four helpers to walk alongside of us in case I came off.

Things were going well and my confidence was growing with our partnership. We got to the stage of riding independently in walk and were running through some simple walk tests. 

Then it happened, I had a fall and lost a lot of my confidence. It’s difficult to say what actually happened but I think it was going onto a 20-metre circle and I lost my balance due to the pace we were traveling at.

When I over balanced I waved my arms up and had the whips in my hands which unfortunately spooked Flynn and from that point there was only one outcome and that was off!

Following this setback it has taken me a long time to build my confidence back up again, I am working hard in the gym and doing exercises to strengthen my core, and learning to sit up straight slightly behind the vertical.

I am back to having side walkers and have the most fantastic team of volunteers who I feel extremely relaxed with.

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A new saddle

After the fall I decided I needed to get my own bespoke saddle as riding in a GP saddle was a challenge. I approached SSIT (Southern spinal injuries trust) as I had worked with them before and knew that they may accept an application for funds towards the bespoke piece of equipment that I needed to help me in my sport, a dressage saddle.

My physio, instructors and RDA were able to support my application with expert knowledge of how owning my own saddle would benefit me and my position while riding.

With the application in I started researching para dressage riders, saddles and adaptations. It is quite complicated as I have been classified as a grade 2. This means in competitions I will have to do walk and trot.

On your classification record you have to declare adaptations as some adaptations won’t be allowed as they are seen as an advantage to the rider. All the adaptions have to go through British Dressage and be authorised and added to your card.

Then I had the call to say I had been successful with my application, so I was able to get in touch with my saddler Paul Allison who has worked with lots of other para dressage riders and he started to gather some saddles and special adaptations for me.

We tried a few and then found a Fairfax one that was most suitable, Paul then worked at taking bits off, adding extra bits and each week we reassessed the changes, making sure it wasn’t effecting Flynn or me in a negative way.

We now have a great supportive saddle, one that is comfortable for Flynn and me. I work closely with Paul as any changes with me or Flynn can compromise my balance. 

Para training

We have come so far this year and even attended a British Para Training venue for our first outing. This was a huge challenge for me as leaving the comforts of our yard and going somewhere else changes so much.

I was extremely nervous which I know effected Flynn so his pace was quicker and this surprised me as to how different just going somewhere else to ride would make me feel.

We have also now hired the arena at the Avon riding for disabled in Bristol (RDA) and this was a very successful outing and we are going to try and make this a regular session for us. However, we do have to take the expense into account as I only have one financial sponsor, Dolphin mobility.

This year I hope to work on the basics and attend an unmounted fit to ride day at Hartpury College where I can have goal setting sessions and ride the simulator, all under the watchful eye of British Dressage. 

Trotting

Flynn and I are also working on trying to start trotting, you may think this is easy but it’s really not. We are just bringing in trotting on the straight, with the leaders taking the control and me just trying to find a balance point as the trot is so bouncy.

When I watch other para riders they make it look so easy. I have to keep reminding myself this is my journey and stop comparing myself to others, but we all do it.

The saddle I have has knee rolls and thigh rolls which support my legs as we try to reduce the swing as too much movement will give the wrong signals to Flynn, and we don’t want to be going any faster at this stage!

I am so happy with how far I have come over the last 12 months and hope to make even more progress in 2019.

Follow my journey at myparajourney.blogspot.com where you can also keep up to date with my antics and life as a paraplegic.


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