This year’s Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Virtual National Championships received record entries and were watched by thousands across YouTube and Facebook.

The virtual championship was first held last year as a substitute for the RDA National Championships at Hartpury, which were cancelled due to the pandemic. However, the event proved to be so popular that the charity has chosen to make it an annual addition to their calendar of events.

“It offers everyone the opportunity to participate in an RDA championship on their regular horse in familiar surroundings,” said RDA Chair of Trustees, Rachel Medill MBE. “I recognise the huge amount of time, passion and hope that goes in to preparing for every one of those entries – competitors, helpers and horses all play a crucial part and it is that level of effort that makes for a competition with real heart”.

The event attracted a total of 527 competitors taking part, 200 more than last year’s event, from 183 RDA centres across the UK from 29-30 October.

The schedule featured 56 classes in dressage, carriage driving, showjumping, endurance, showing, musical ride and drive, vaulting and the countryside challenge – an RDA speciality that involves riders tackling everyday challenges that test their control and riding skills.

One of the highlights of the programme was the Wild West Musical Ride, performed by a team of riders and volunteers from Brae RDA, and a moving Remembrance of Tabole Musical Ride by riders from Haworth RDA.

Impressive performances

Each test was live streamed to Facebook Live, to the RDA YouTube channel and via the RDA website. The two commentators were Rosie Russell, commentator and producer, and Lauren O’Hagan, dressage trainer and commentator. Between them they provided 18 hours of commentary on each horse and competitor, interspersed with interviews with RDA partners and sponsors and some good luck messages from RDA’s Ambassadors and VIPs, including Clare Balding, Alastair Stewart, and Carl Hester.

Coverage via Facebook Live reached over 5,000 people across the two days and whilst the majority of viewers were watching from the UK, the broadcast also reached 11 other countries including the United States, Australia and Japan. On YouTube, nearly 800 hours were watched by approximately 3,000 viewers across the weekend.

Many participants overcame significant challenges to be able to compete. Verna Clifford from Avon Centre RDA Group rides with severely impaired vision and navigated the dressage test with the help of callers at every marker around the dressage arena who spoke the letter out loud as she approached.

Vaulting competitor Eden Hayes from Gaddesden Place RDA gave an impressive and gymnastic display both on and off the horse. A previous winner at the RDA National Championships, she is known for her dramatic cartwheels and tumbles when she dismounts.

Incredible equines

The championships rely on support from many volunteers, but could not take place without the RDA horses and ponies. To recognise this, a special award of “horse of the day” was presented by commentators Rosie and Lauren.

Saturday’s winner was Charlie from Newtownards RDA and Sunday’s prize went to Ebony from Erme Valley RDA. They both won a headcollar and saddle pad donated by Black Heart Equestrian.

The highest dressage score of the championships was achieved by Jessica Limb from the Helen Atkin RDA Group at 75.5% in Grade 7 Canter, followed by Catriona McCartney Kitson who won her Freestyle Grade 6 walk & trot class with 75%. The highest Countryside Challenge score was 92.85% by Harry Jones from Stratford RDA in the Sunday Class 85 National Championships Countryside Challenge Led or One Side Walker.

“Everyone was a winner at this event,” added an RDA spokesman. “The RDA Groups where the competitions were recorded, the volunteers who called the tests, the organisers behind the scenes, the cheerful commentators, the sponsors, the incredible horses and above all the riders, whose smiles said everything about how much this meant to them. This year’s Virtual National Championships demonstrated beyond doubt, how RDA really does transform the lives of disabled adults and children.”

The dressage was sponsored by Dodson and Horrell and the Countryside Challenge was sponsored by Trefoil Guild. Other discipline sponsors included Red Gorilla (carriage driving) Child’s Farm (vaulting and musical ride and drive), Oliver Wight EAME LLP (showing and showjumping) and JM Finn (endurance)

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now.

Find out what’s inside the latest issue of Your Horse

Get the latest issue

Check out our Christmas subscription offer – the perfect gift for a horse lover!