Country & Stable of Olney are a family run equestrian business set in the heart of Olney, Buckinghamshire. They pride themselves on excellent customer service as well as having an impressive range of products for people and their four-legged pets to enjoy the great outdoors. Country & Stable pride themselves on supporting the local community, they regularly donate and provide product support to local charities, clubs and events.
This month, we talk to Country & Stable’s sponsored rider, Amanda Shirtcliffe. Amanda is a Para dressage rider based in Buckinghamshire. In 2012 Amanda was diagnosed with a rare neurological movement disorder. Having taken up Para dressage in 2013 and competed successfully at national and international level, Amanda was selected onto the British Equestrian Federation World Class Program in 2016 and has her sights firmly set on representing Team GB in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
As seen in Equestrian Life April 2018 Issue
How long have you been living with Dystonia and what does it entail.
My Dystonia wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2012. Dystonia is a rare movement disorder in which you have involuntary muscle contractions that cause spasms, twisting movements or abnormal postures. Basically, the neurological mechanism that makes muscles relax when they are not in use does not function properly. Dystonia can affect just one limb or the entire body, but in my case it affects both of my legs, arms, torso and neck. My dystonia hinders my balance and affects my movement and limb function; muscle spasms are often excruciatingly painful and make everyday basic tasks a challenge to accomplish. I can walk with the use of leg callipers and crutches but I am often confined to long periods of time in a wheelchair.
How do you overcome the challenges you face when riding with Dystonia?
My body pretty much decided for me that I couldn’t continue to hare about the countryside on horseback, and if I wanted to carry on riding I’d have to find an alternative way to do so. Due to my involuntary muscle spasms and limited control of my legs, I find that riding without stirrups is the best way for my body to balance better when it’s in the saddle. We also train the horses to respond to my vocal commands, having the horses ‘voice activated’ really helps!
Since taking up a para sport, what have you discovered about yourself?
I’m not afraid to be myself, although for a while my confidence took a battering and accepting my body for what it is has taken some getting used to. I still get frustrated with the things I can’t do, the days I am bed bound are the darkest, but over time I’ve learnt to allow my body the rest it needs in order to recover and carry on living as full a life as possible. Having a disability is something I still struggle to accept, I can be a stubborn old mule at times and instead of accepting defeat I’d rather break my neck trying to prove a point! I’ve always been independent and asking for help is something even now I find hard to do. I’m naturally competitive and have found that having a disability makes me appreciate the function and movement I have left, it’s made me more determined to get my backside into gear and not let my disability beat me.
What is your favourite product that Country & Stable have provided for you and your horses?
Country & Stable have been a phenomenal support to me and my equestrian team, providing me with financial backing and product sponsorship to get me started in para sport.
I feel so privileged that Country & Stable have supplied me with some of the best equestrian products on the market. I love all of the Eurostar range but when the weather is wet and windy, I really appreciate my warm winter breeches!
For the horses it has to be Horseware Rambo rugs. Horseware make an extensive range of rugs to suit all shapes and sizes of horses. I think the Rambo collection is by far superior, they withstand all that the British weather throws at them and come with a 3yr guarantee, in short, they do what they say on the tin!
Can you tell us a little about your horses?
I have five competition horses, (Princess Fiona, Tottie, Magic Mike, Awesome Annie and Remi) all of which are owned by other people.
I am forever grateful to the owners for lending me their four-legged friends, without their support I would struggle to compete in the sport.
Who is your favourite horse and why?
Princess Fiona is without a shadow of a doubt my all time favourite, although I try to treat them all equally! When Princess came to me she hadn’t had any previous dressage training and we have learned the ropes together. Last year we were crowned National Champions, that was the icing on the cake.
Apart from riding, do you have any other hobbies?
Eating! I totally live for food, not exactly the hobby to have when you need to fit into bright white skin sucking dressage breeches but I can’t ever envisage becoming a vegetarian.
To me a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands! Before dystonia rudely invaded my body, I used to enjoy snowboarding, but even back then my balance was never brilliant, Bambi on ice is probably a good comparison, so it’s probably for the best that I stay away from the slopes!
What advice can you give someone who wants to get into Para Dressage?
Just Do it! Yes, it takes a certain amount of dedication and determination to put yourself out there and try something new, but a little bit of self-belief goes a long way. Para sport has provided me with a new found focus and challenged me to push myself further than I would have ever done before. I would never have imagined that in 4 years from when I first started in the sport I would be on the British Team and vying for a place on the Paralympic podium. By no means has it been an easy ride but I am loving every minute of the journey and I hope that it continues to be that way as I trot towards Toyko!
Run when you can, walk when you have to, but never give up!
Amanda Shirtcliffe; www.pararider.co.uk