Endurance GB (EGB), the governing body of the sport of competitive long distance riding in the UK, is pleased to announce the launch of their new Para Equestrian Endurance initiative, in association with the charity, Riding for the Disabled, incorporating Carriage Driving (RDA). Disabled riders are being offered the opportunity to ride at one of two national Endurance GB rides; Puddingstone on 23rd September and New Forest Rufus on 14th October 2012. The enterprise will be officially launched at the Puddingstone ride in Suffolk on 23rd September where there will be 10, 20 and 40 mile classes as well an invitation class for Para riders from other disciplines. Entry to these two rides will be free of charge and accompanying riders, if required, may enter at half the normal entry fee.
Such is the camaraderie in the sport that some disabled riders already compete successfully alongside their able bodied rivals, including British Team member, Chris Yeoman, who overcomes her battle with multiple sclerosis to compete at top level, and Tracy Thompson, who has returned to the saddle following a spinal injury. These riders were involved in endurance before their disability, but endurance is a sport that anyone can do, riding any sort of horse and the new initiative offers unique opportunities to disabled riders who are new to the sport. The project will see more rides introducing Para classes and specific awards for achievement as well as having consideration for the needs of Para riders.
EGB are working with the national charity, RDA, to introduce the sport and so encourage disabled riders to take up a new discipline that will provide additional therapy and sense of achievement. The RDA will organise rides of varying distances between 1 and 10km and then competitors will move up to EGB rides. “There has been huge support from RDA, who are keen to find interesting and achievable challenges for their riders. We have also had interest from the Injured Jockeys Fund and Help for Heroes. Ultimately we aim to get a World Championships”, explained Emma Miller, Chairman of EGB’s International Committee. “The rides will be held in exactly the same way as regular rides, although companion riders will be allowed and organisers will consider the requirements of para riders when arranging facilities and access at rides”, she added.
As well as support from charities and organisations involved in rehabilitation, the launch event at Puddingstone will feature an invitation class for para riders from other disciplines, and free entry in 10, 20 and 40 mile rides for Para riders. “We are hoping that some of our para Olympic riders will take part in the event”, said Emma Miller.
Tracy Thompson has competed in endurance for 20 years and in 1998 she was shortlisted for the World Championships in Dubai. Just a few days after the team was announced, she was involved in an accident on the family farm and a spinal injury left her paralysed from the waist down. “I had a very good surgeon and I started to get some feeling back in my legs. I spent a lot of time at the Spinal Injury Centre at Pinderfield doing physio and rehabilitation”, explains Tracy, whose aim was to get back in the saddle. “I went home 5 weeks after the accident and my husband borrowed a quiet pony, hoiked me out of my wheelchair and led me round on the pony for half an hour. That was a real high point”, she says. “My next aim was to take part in a ride and my first proper outing was in 2000 when I was allowed to participate in the Golden Oldies class at the Golden Horseshoe Ride. Sally Hall volunteered to ride with me to do the gates which can be a problem as I cannot get off and on again without assistance. But the endurance world is very friendly and even in a race, people will help out”. Luckily, Tracy can ride on her own now, but she recognises the effort that is required for disabled riders to compete. “Every endurance rider has a support crew, but mine are even more invaluable. At vet gates my husband has to literally lift me off the horse and then he takes over. I am more of a hindrance until they get me back on to continue the ride”, she explains.
“The camaraderie in endurance riding comes from spending several hours riding with fellow competitors during an event, whereas in dressage or jumping you rarely ride together. Endurance is also a sport in which you can take part on a horse of any shape or size, which means that disabled riders can compete on the most suitable horse for them. The Para Endurance initiative is a wonderful idea and I hope that many more disabled riders will be encouraged to enjoy the challenge of this unique sport”, added Tracy.