Tuesday 9 May 2017
This week’s Personal Experience Blog comes from Britta Francis
Despite having complex medical problems, I have ridden a horse for most of my life. My spine has grown abnormally and twisted itself, which has resulted in my having multiple operations over the years. This has left me in a lot of pain, needing pain management and physiotherapy, which Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) helps me with. Of particular help was ‘hippotherapy’ which is physiotherapy on horseback. This has helped develop my core stability, posture and balance.
It was through my horse, Harry that I discovered RDA and was selected for their Regional and then National Championships. This gave me a true sense of pride and achievement, with rosettes, prizes, trophies and photographs as permanent lasting memories.
One of my highlights was spending just under a week at The Royal Bath and West of England Show as part of the British Horse Society ‘Pageant to the Horse’. Harry loved being centre of attention in the big main ring. Our bond was so strong that Harry was able to sense what was needed, right down to doing things like using his muscles differently when I lost my balance.
He was my reason to try and get up every day, even on the days when the pain, illness and fatigue were overwhelming, and everything was black.
Following on from this success, I went on to the British Dressage South West Para-Dressage Squad, progressing to not only riding for the south west of England, but for England as an entirety. I had professional support from nutritionists at Bath University, developing my body to ensure there was sufficient strength, both physically and mentally, to compete.
Unfortunately, I underwent traumatic spinal surgery in 2012, first needing to have my spine broken and then having it re-set with screws and rods. This coincided with Harry being put to sleep, which was devastating.
Not only did I suffer from enormous amounts of pain, but I also became increasingly reliant on drugs to manage this pain. I lost my independence, and without Harry, started to lose friends and contacts from riding clubs and teams.
During the following two years I had to undergo four spinal operations, one of which was emergency surgery. This meant I had to learn how to stand, walk, and go up and down stairs again after each of the operations.
Two years after my last operation I was able to get on to an equine simulator, available at Avon RDA. I spent about a year on the simulator and then was finally able to ride a ‘real’ horse again at Urchinwood Manor Equestrian Centre, which is Accessibility Mark Accredited.
I now ride for about half an hour, once a fortnight, which gives me a huge sense of achievement and enjoyment. Importantly, it also gives me the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people, and make new friends.
My focus for the future is to aim high and dream of competing once again.
About Riding for the Disabled Association Accessibility Mark
Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) participation programme launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that they offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure they provide a first class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial.
For more information contact Jacqueline Spouge or Tim Smith at TSM on 01724 784600.
There are currently 37 Accessibility Mark approved centres across the country. To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk.
Read Inclusion London’s new resource to help you understand why physical activity and sport should be on a Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation’s (DDPO) agenda and the important role DDPOs can play in ensuring that local physical activity and sport becomes fully inclusive.