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  • Writer's pictureOllie Ratcliffe

My Against All Odds Story

I am a 22 year old Grade 1a Para dressage rider and graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Sports Therapy last year. My horses and I are based in Buckinghamshire at Windmill Farm and I am trained by Linsay Coleridge Smith.

I have Cerebral Palsy, hyper mobility and lax ligaments. My CP affects all four limbs and has left me weaker down my left side, my balance and muscle tone are also affected. I have a permanent limp, walk with a walking stick and as I am unable to walk long distances use a mobility scooter.

My disability has made it hard for me to make friends and I used to get bullied a lot as I was different to other children and much slower than them. But then I found riding and things changed as it was something that I could do which helped me physically, as I started it as a form of therapy, but also mentally as it was something that I was good at and I could excel at. I am able to develop a fantastic partnership with the horses that I ride and after I decided to have a go at competing it has all spiraled on from there.

I am unable to use normal reins as I cannot hold them without losing grip so I ride with loop reins. I ride with enclosed stirrups as my feet fall through the stirrups. I use a seat saver on my saddle to prevent bruising and have a hand held on the front of my saddle in case I lose my balance. I use two whips as my legs don’t always work as they should and this has been successful with my new horse as he is young and very big. He understands me better and I don’t have to work so hard.

In dressage tests I salute with my head only as I can’t let go of my reins and then take them up again. I also can’t let go for free walk on a long rein so I lean forward and get my horses to stretch that way.

I started riding at my local Riding for the Disabled Centre for therapy. I won my first RDA competition when I was 11, the following year I qualified for the RDA National Championships. I was talent spotted at a local Para competition and a summary of my journey follows; • 2007 selected onto the Hertfordshire Elite Athlete Support Programme, who supported me until I began University. Represented GB at Junior International. • 2008 Sport Aids grant, towards my training. Selected onto the World Class Programme at Pre-start level. Represented GB at Junior International. • 2009 3rd at Para Talent Spotting. Represented GB at Junior International. • 2010 I was very lucky to be given the ride on Wald Minor, Woody to his friends; he had competed up to a very high level in able bodied dressage. This was where my dream really started to take hold. Selected onto the Regional Foundation Squad for the East and East Midlands. Awarded a Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme Award. Grade 3 Restricted Winter Champion. Represented GB and finished 2nd at Junior International. Bought a new horse Lady Amelia to move forward in my riding career. • 2011 Training Lady Amelia with my coach towards Para competitions. • 2012 Lady Amelia was injured, I started to loan Sky O’Hara, within 3 weeks of having him we won both classes at our first Para competition and attained the qualifying scores to apply for World Class. I also gained the qualifying criteria for the Para Home International and the CPEDI1*. • 2013 A very hard year for me as I lost my top horse Lady Amelia to colic. Runner up at the Luton Sports Women of the Year awards. I qualified and competed at the Para Dressage Winter Championships (5th and two 2nds) and the Para National Championships (5th). I competed at the Para Home International; my team the Scottish/Eastern team came 3rd out of the 9 teams. I was chosen for the Inter County London Ritz team. My team came 2nd out of the 21 teams and individually I came 3rd.I represented team GBR as a Young Rider at Bishop Burton International. • 2014 Selected onto the British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Programme. Represent the Central region at the Para Home International, my team the Central Red Kites finished 4th. I qualified and competed at the Winter Para Dressage Restricted Championship in March, where I was reserve champion in my grade. I qualified and competed at the Para Dressage Restricted Summer National Championships at Hickstead. Nominated for the Bishop Burton 2*, where I finished 2nd. Represented the London Team at the BD Inter County Challenge. Competed Sky at Novice and Elementary, gaining above 65% at novice. • 2015 qualified and competed at all the major Para Dressage Championships. Qualified and competed at my first Open Championships. Got selected to represent GB at Bishop Burton 2*. Got the qualifying score to be considered for the KBIS National Para Dressage Championships, only the top 20 Para riders qualify. I qualified and competed at the BD Nationals at Stoneleigh Park and we got placed. I competed Sky in able bodied dressage and qualified for the Under 25 Championships and an Area festival. Sadly my new horse injured himself and has been out for the whole year. • 2015 was also the year I completed my degree in Sports Therapy with a Second class, Upper Division. An achievement I am very proud of especially as I continued to train and compete at the same time. It wasn’t easy though; I faced many challenges along the way due to my disability but I overcame these.

• 2016 due to deterioration in my condition I got re classified and am now a 1a Para Dressage Rider. 1a includes the most impaired riders. I am now unable to work as a Sports Therapist, as my disability does not allow me to. This has not stopped me and this year some of my achievements include; qualifying for the KBIS Semi Finals and then going onto qualify for the BD National Championships , got picked to represent the Central Team at the Para Home International and got selected to represent GB at my first ever 3* International. I am now more determined than ever to reach my goal of getting to the Paralympics in Tokyo 2020 and wining a gold medal.

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