22-year-old Rory was born with Down’s syndrome, and the difficult challenges he faced resulted in him losing trust in the people around him, so his mum Jeanette decided to try and use horses as a form of therapy.

Rory has always had a passion for horses and it was this love that was to unlock his fear and anxiety around other people, with the help of the fantastic staff at Barguse Riding Centre, based in St Austell, Cornwall.

Although Rory enjoyed his initial riding experience and his riding ability improved, his distrust of people remained.

Jeanette said: “We needed to find a horse and a person who could speak to Rory’s fear and not to his anger, someone who had all the time in the world, knowledge, patience and above all respect for Rory as a human being. We needed to find that person who didn’t argue back, allowed him space to breath and process, someone who wouldn’t give up on this young man. That’s when I found myself telephoning Barguse Riding Centre.”

New hope

Instructor, Vicky Rowe answered Jeanette’s call and her positivity and kindness gave Jeanette hope that she had finally found someone that understood Rory’s needs.

Barguse Riding Centre, owned and run by Lisa and Alistair Todd, is an Accessibility Mark accredited centre. Accessibility Mark is a nationwide joint scheme between Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and the British Equestrian Federation to provide more riding opportunities for disabled people.

Within a week, Rory had his first riding lesson with Vicky at the centre and even progressed to enjoying an ‘Own a Pony Day’ without Jeanette staying with him, which was a major breakthrough.

An incredible bond

It wasn’t just the staff that made a difference to Rory, it was his incredible bond with Goose, a 16.2hh horse that was bred in Russia and brought over to the UK to compete.

Having done a little bit of everything in his career, including eventing, Goose came to the centre for a new purpose in life and at 26-years-old he has become a firm favourite with the centre’s Accessibility Mark riders and shows no signs of slowing down.

Rory has been riding at the centre for two years now and he is a changed young man and his ability has exceeded all expectation.

“The change in Rory didn’t happen overnight; it was because Vicky and Lisa took a deep breath and did an assessment of Rory’s needs. They looked at him as an individual and slowly and carefully allowed him to develop.

“Rory made mistakes and didn’t listen at times, which was frustrating for all but it became clear that they were not going to give up on him. Slowly Rory learnt to trust Vicky and her instruction. Instead of giving up, he tries again and again until he gets it right. He isn’t afraid of failing and understands the process of learning now.

“At home we can apply this to literacy, numeracy and any situation that is challenging. I always ask – ‘What does Vicky say?’, ‘keep calm and carry on riding’ and we can laugh and move on. Vicky kindly bought Rory a mug with the motto written on it, which he uses every day.

“Sometimes when Rory feels overwhelmed with life he will stop in a lesson and cry, Vicky lets him have all the space he needs in the lesson, to work through the emotions that sometimes arise. The sensitivity and respect that comes from this wonderful woman has changed Rory’s life and all the skills that Rory has learnt he can now apply to his own life.

“Thanks to Goose and Vicky, Rory finds himself blessed with new friends, a place to belong, and with a new view of the world,” added Jeanette.

A huge improvement

Vicky has incorporated SMART Targets when planning Rory’s sessions to help set out and work towards goals and ambitions and even though there have been challenges along the way, they have always found a solution to every hurdle.

Said Vicky: “Rory has been a pleasure to teach for the past two years and he has become a popular figure at the centre, encouraging all our riders during lessons and even helping our younger riders to lead their ponies to the arena.

“I have seen a huge improvement in Rory’s communication and language skills, problem solving and willingness to learn and we couldn’t do it without the wonderful Goose, the kindest, most gentle and patient horse ever.”

In a masterclass in inclusion and patience, all the young riders at Barguse have been educated on how to engage with Rory, meaning he is welcomed and encouraged by everyone on the yard.

Keeping in touch

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, Rory has been unable to attend for his usual lessons which has had a huge impact on his life.

To help Rory during this uncertain time, Lisa has been keeping in regular contact with Rory, filming morning and evening walks around the stables and of course his beloved Goose.

During his time away from the centre, Rory has drawn pictures of Goose, written a poem about him and even made his own film; he simply cannot wait to return.

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