Hi! My name’s Lizzie, I live in Essex, train all over the place (mostly Essex, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire), and I’m really excited to be a Hardy Etc Sponsored Rider!
My day job is working part time in a local primary school where I plan and deliver sessions outside the classroom to children with a variety of special needs. I love it because it’s so varied, the kids are brilliant, and it has taught me a lot of useful life lessons!
The rest of my time is pretty much devoted to horses. I have a disability caused by a rare genetic condition and by me breaking my back when I was 13 (oops), so I’m heavily involved with the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) as a rider, vaulter and volunteer. I coach vaulting, am training to coach riding and I’m on various committees helping to run events, do publicity, raise funds and so on. As a rule I spend longer on this each week than I do on my actual job…
My introduction to the RDA was as a rider in September 2014. I’d ridden as a child and owned my own horse until breaking my back, but although I’d tried to get back into riding my body had never coped physically. Fortunately, at RDA they broke me in gently and within a few months I was competing in dressage and learning skills I’d never done before (my riding school had been very much the ‘hold on tight’ variety!).
I’m fortunate that my group has some super coaches and that they have high ambitions for us. Since joining I have competed at the RDA National Championships each year in various disciplines: dressage, showjumping, vaulting, showing and the team Musical Ride event. I have come first at least once in four of those disciplines (2nd in the fifth!), and been placed in the top 5 plenty of other times. I was never able to compete as a child because we couldn’t afford it, so being able to take part in competitions, let alone win at the Nationals, is like living a childhood dream. I still get excited just looking at my competition clothes!
In 2016 I got into vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) for the first time. It seemed unlikely that someone in a wheelchair could do something as crazy as vaulting, but it turned out that you just had to be a bit creative and try things out. I competed 10 days after trying it on the real thing for the first time and haven’t looked back. Since then, I have won three lots of the RDA National Championships, three lots of the English Vaulting Championships and three lots of the British Vaulting Championships. It has been extremely difficult and the better I get, the harder it seems to get!
However, I absolutely love the sport – it’s just so different and a really good talking point. It’s also ideal for people with disabilities, because it is so adaptable. I now coach RDA vaulters and am training for my BEV Level 1 Coach certificate (British Equestrian Vaulting – the able-bodied side). Coaching is a real joy! It doesn’t matter if a beginner is disabled or not, they all start out saying, “I can’t do that,” but by the end of the first session they’re all surprising themselves. I love working with the more experienced vaulters too, and helping them to understand the horse and the moves better. I’d recommend vaulting to any rider, because it has helped my riding too, not only by boosting my balance and confidence but also by helping me to tune in with the horse more and in new ways.
It’s also helped me to get out of my wheelchair more often, giving me more confidence that even though I can’t feel my legs, it doesn’t mean I’m always going to fall. After a year of vaulting I started training at Cambridge Gymnastics Academy too and it’s been with them that I’ve moved on in leaps and bounds – literally! They are just brilliant and went from inventing lots of new seated exercises to helping me to compete in an adults’ able-bodied competition (there were 18 very difficult months in between!). I have so much fun at the gym and I have gained so much from it both for when I get back on a horse and also in everyday life.
My weekly schedule is pretty hectic with training and coaching. On average, I coach six sessions a week and train 10 times a week. I’m always, always injured, but if I stop training for even a couple of days all of my symptoms worsen dramatically and I also become very, very grumpy – it’s just easiest for me to keep on training hard, really!
So, my plans for 2019… well, firstly, I want to keep on competing and, ideally, winning! In 2019 I will be going for my fourth set of national titles, so obviously I want to hang on to them. The standard in RDA/para vaulting is always advancing so I need to keep upping my game too, so I have a few moves in mind that I want to work on in the gym, then on the barrel, then on the horse in halt, then on the move…
In riding, my aims for this year are just to qualify for the RDA Nationals in dressage and showjumping. Our group is going through a horrible time right now because we have no horses at all, so obviously our training is pretty limited at the moment. We are hoping to have some appropriate horses in place soon but these things take a long time. There’s no guarantee that we’ll have a horse who can do dressage and jumping to the same levels as our old horses, or that we’ll have much time to get to know each other, so mere qualification is a reasonable aim!
Coaching-wise, I’d like to move onwards and upwards in pretty much everything. I hope that I will achieve my Level 1 BEV (and I might start looking at Level 2) and my RDA Group Coach (Riding) qualification. Coaching is so rewarding and it also helps me to become a better vaulter and rider myself, because it challenges me to think hard about what I’m doing and why, and how I can explain or describe it.
I’m also hoping to get my vaulters competing more. The BEV vaulters can do harder categories and the RDA ones will hopefully get some experience in RDA competitions, both videoed and at the Nationals. I’m working to arrange a ‘friendly’ barrel competition for East Region RDA vaulters which I’m very excited about because it’ll be a great chance for everyone to get a bit more competition experience but in a relaxed and supportive environment.