Becoming a para rider: Our first competition

Since taking her first steps on Super Flynn, Sallyanne's riding confidence has grown and grown. Here she explains what happened when she entered her first dressage test...


Beth Hobbs, my trainer and friend, decided to have a small in-house freestyle dressage competition at the yard, giving the younger ones and their ponies the chance to ride a small test to music.

I decided to have a go as well. I was sure to win being the only one in my class… the para dressage class!

The girls practiced all week, but found it quite hard to work out a piece of music to ride to, and make it the correct length. My daughter Stella and her friend Mia decided to do a pairs ride.

I had a trial run through the day before and let’s just say I had to do a cross-country course to even get in the arena.

As I’ve mentioned before, our hoist is mounted on the back of the lorry, which is parked in the car park at the yard.

This is actually quite a way from the arena, so in its self makes it quite a challenge just getting there and explains why I actually haven’t ridden in there yet.

I mounted Flynn and the journey began. We walked with side walkers out of the field, over a small step on to the yard.

Flynn took it all very steady (he could probably tell I was petrified) and all I could think was look up, brace and hold on!

We turned onto the yard, only to find a generator, cement mixer and tractor. There was also an electrical lead, running across the yard. Great stuff!

You’ve got to laugh – with all the noise and obstacles it certainly tested mine and Flynn’s trust and balance.

We stood still for the moment while we waited for the area to be made safe and, once past these obstacles, we turned a tight corner, past the barn towards the arena.

There was another small step to contend with, but this time it was going downhill.

I was more scared to go down a little ramp than up. I just dropped the reins and held on to the (what I call) ‘Oh Crap strap’! We made it – our first time in the arena. Yay!

In the arena

For the routine, I chose a piece of music by Vanessa Mae the violinist called I will always love you. It’s an instrumental that’s 4.5mins in length.

We practiced a small routine I’d prepared that started by entering the arena, riding down the centre line and turning right onto a 20m circle.

Flynn was a little unsure who was giving him instructions as there was quite a lot of ‘walk on’ and ‘good boy’ coming from me, as well as everyone walking next to him. His ears were moving all over the place trying to take it all in!

We did the whole test in walk and included a change of rein (I even put in a long walk on a free rein), three more 20m circles and a halt salute.

Flynn had a couple of stops so it took about eight minutes in total. It’s all a learning curve and we’ll take this all on board as we learn together.

I know we need to start using two whips as aids (to act as the leg aids) and Beth has started this training with Flynn – she’s so proud of him as he’s been taking it all in his stride!

I was really pleased with what I’d achieved on that trial run. Being on board Flynn is the most amazing feeling ever and makes me feel totally able (and by that I mean not disabled). Being out of the confines of my wheelchair feels great.

I didn’t want it to be over, although I didn’t much fancy riding across the yard again. Needs must though, when I need the lorry and the hoist to get off!

The big day

Ahead of the competition 

Ahead of the competition 

We had an early start the next morning as the dressage was going to start at 9am and I was going first.

Obviously, I took it very seriously and turned up in my competition gear. My daughter will tell you that it took over 30 minutes to get my boots on.

These are things that having a spinal injury make difficult. Due to foot drop and tone, it make it nearly impossible to get my old boots. It may be time for some new bespoke ones me thinks!

We did exactly the same as the day before, but this time we didn’t have to dodge electric cables and there was no generator going!

It felt better today in the saddle, not as wobbly as the day before, and I was much more confident going up and over the yard into the arena, as Flynn looked after me so well.

We had three walkers (a leader and two side walkers) to help and once the music started, we were off.

We got through the short test and at the halt and salute, I was so happy that I shed a tear. Being the only one in the class, we came first, but neither Flynn or I can wait for the next one.

Flynn receiving a pep talk beforehand 

Flynn receiving a pep talk beforehand 

Stella and her friends went through their tests and it was obvious they’d worked really hard, putting together a routine to music and performing it really well.

You could tell by the smiles that everyone enjoyed the morning. Thanks to Beth and all the helpers who helped with me as without them this wouldn’t be possible.