Becoming a para rider: Super Flynn and the para hoist

The arrival of the hoist has meant Sallyanne is that bit closer to getting back in the saddle. Here's how she got on when they introduced her horse, Super Flynn, to the idea. 

We now have the para hoist up and working (it’s all been paid for from kind donations from Downend Round Table, Pearce Brothers Mobility and Severn Vale Riding Club) and it's time for the hard work to begin.

We've been training Super Flynn to get used to the hoist. The first time we did this we made sure we had plenty of carrots!

Beth (my friend and former instructor) is getting quite good at setting up the hoist now - we're actually like the McLaren team.

I sit and supervise while Beth stands on a chair and puts it all together. I do wish I could be more help and I find it very frustrating that I have to watch.

It doesn’t take long now and once we have it all attached with a pocket full of carrots it’s time for the unveiling.

Introducing Flynn to the hoist

In the hoist! 

In the hoist! 

My daughter Stella was in charge of bringing Flynn round the corner of the lorry while Beth sat in the hoist.

Flynn was an absolute star. He's a seven-year old Connemara with such a big heart. 

He walked up to the hoist and just stood there. We moved Beth in the hoist up, down, round and round

The hoist is very quiet and doesn’t make any noise, so we could swing her round and let Flynn see what’s it’s all about.

Once Beth was alongside, Flynn got lots of carrots. Nom nom nom! 

He was so interested in the carrots that he didn't seem to care that Beth was swinging around his head.

We moved the hoist up into the highest position and let Beth dangle. 

Stella then walked Flynn underneath Beth in the hoist and back round a few times. I don’t know if it was beginner's luck, but Super Flynn was truly super - he never batted an eyelid!

So on she went. We moved Flynn underneath and lowered Beth down…  I think we could change Flynn’s status from super to statue!

Flynn didn’t move while Beth mounted and sat. We lifted her back up and walked Flynn through, making sure we knocked him gently with the hoist, on his head, ears, back and tail and did the whole process again. I'm happy to say that for his first lesson, he made amazing progress.

Take two

A few days later we did the whole thing again with Beth. As before, Flynn (the statue) was a star, he just wondered where the carrots were! 

Saying 'hello' to Flynn

Saying 'hello' to Flynn

It was great to see that Flynn still wasn’t fazed by the whole thing, but I really wanted a go. 

Those who know me well know that I'm not the most patientperson in the world, so for me to wait until the second time is pretty good. 

Before I knew it, I heard myself saying: “Oh let me have a go!”

I was so excited. Beth dismounted and it was my turn. I positioned myself in the hoist and Beth was in charge of the controls.

Up I went and my friend Caroline walked Flynn up to me, carrots at the ready. He was probably thinking: "When I come here everyone tells me I’m a good boy and gives me treats.”

Then it was time to be hoisted up and Caroline walked Flynn underneath. Beth lowered me down and I landed.

The tears came flooding out. I couldn't believe it - after 18 months since my accident I got my first sit back on a real horse.

It couldn’t have been more perfect to sit on Flynn. Beth was crying too and it was overwhelming to have such a special moment mounting a horse and sitting there, I stayed in the hoist and just went up and down a few times.

This was enough for the first time. I know it doesn’t sound like hard work, but believe me… I had to work so hard at balance and concentration that both my body and brain ache!

A few hoof steps forward

The next week we arrange another hoist session. This time my friend Michelle has the pleasure of assisting me - there's no way I could do any of this para horse stuff alone.

Hopefully the para team at Lone Oak Stables will grow in strength. I think we'll call ourselves “Lone Oak Para Team” - it has a ring to it.

We still need sponsorship and I'm still looking for help and support with this. I have an amazing sponsorship offer from Julia Mottram from Keystone physiotherapy. They provide human and veterinary physiotherapy and Julia has offered to work with me and Flynn when we start out riding together. 

The second mount was just as exciting as the first. This time we ended up with a bigger audience as there were nine people at the yard today, mostly pulling my leg and spinning me round and taking the mick.  

It's all good practice for Flynn and me to get used to a big audience (especially when we attend an Olympic stadium!)

On board! 

On board! 

It feels so high sitting on Flynn that I don’t look down. This time I detached myself from the safety of the hoist, but I felt so vulnerable.

I had two leaders and two side walkers around me. I didn't ride with stirrups so my legs  were dangling... I needed my core to hold me up and I'm so grateful for all those fitness sessions!  

My concentration was working over time. I kept telling myself to sit up and look up and I wanted to kick to go forward, but then remembered that I can’t move my leg!

”Walk on” I say and try to move my seat and hips. Flynn just stands there. “Walk on Flynn,” I say, but he just stands there. 

The leaders are actively pulling him now, he takes some slow steps and begins to walk forward.  

I wonder how on earth I'll ever be able to ride forward, stay on top and steer all in one go on my own. We carry on walking and then it dawns on me that we need to turn... how will I stay on around a corner?! 

I shout to Beth: "Which way are we going?"

She says to the right. Well, it was a very wide right, but I stayed on. 

Before I know it, we're back at the lorry and I actually can’t quite believe that I’ve just had my first ride. Overwhelming or what.

Learning to fly

Back on the yard and I'm so glad I'm still wearing my beautiful new riding hat.

My friends Lin and Beth were looking at one of the other horses who had an infected bite, so I leant over to see what they were looking at.

The next thing I know, I'm going up in the air in my wheelchair and then bumping down head first onto the yard. Straight into a massive muddy puddle. 

But it doesn't end there. 

Super Flynn, who also was leaning over to see what we were all looking at, decided to accidently get his lead rope stuck on my wheelchair and when he lifted his head up, he took me with him!

He probably thought: “It’s ok she can fly, she’s always up in the air anyway my new pilot!"

Well, what a noise I made - none of the horses batted an eyelid as I went flying across the yard and landed in a heap. 

Luckily Lin and Ian (Beth’s mum and dad) go to the gym as they certainly had a workout that day lifting me back up into my chair... wet and muddy and still laughing.

I must check up on my insurance policy as I realise I'm quite a liability to have around...

Learning to ride

Regular sessions with the simulator are good preparation for riding with Flynn

Regular sessions with the simulator are good preparation for riding with Flynn

I'm still having my weekly riding lessons on the simulator at the Avon Riding Centre and I absolutely love it.

I've realised this week that I need to change the position I think is straight because I'm actually leaning back and I need to sit more forward with my shoulders.

This is a huge challenge as it feels so wrong and unbalanced. I need to start to sit more forward and engage other muscles.

I also need to work more on my balance ball at home and push myself a bit more with my core.

Every cloud

I've had a couple of setbacks this week as I needed another cortisone injection into my wrists for my carpel tunnel. My hands are really painful with pins and needles and this affects everything.

I also had some bad news saying my application for Botox in my bladder has been turned down for the second time and I have 28 days to appeal. 

Despite this, I also had some brilliant news - I had an amazing phone call with Ann Dunham OBE, para rider where she gave me some advice and shared her expertise. 

I recently enjoyed watching her para display at Badminton Horse trials 2017, (this was the first time ever para riders have ridden at Badminton - what an achievement).

Along with this, I also have an interview next week! I'll tell you more about it as it evolves, but I'd love to secure a stable nursing position. I think I'm ready for a change, even though more time in the saddle is where I want to be! 

I've applied for the Leg-Up for Talent apprentice program, so all the individuals who have followed my blog, please look me up on Facebook and ask for a friend request. You can find me at…

Sallyanne Louise Haigh

All the best,