So here’s a thing, I have dyspraxia. The inspiration for this, one of many rants, comes from a closed minded fool of a professional psychologist telling me I can’t have dyspraxia, because I am able to ride a horse. No other reason, just that. So, I have decided to tell the story of exactly how a person with dyspraxia can learn to ride, because people like me can, and do, not only ride, but successfully compete. A quick google search will tell you that, you moron.
When I was six years old, I asked for pony riding lessons. I had no idea what dyspraxia was at this point, there was absolutely nothing to suggest to me that I wouldn’t be an amazing horse rider. My earliest memory of riding was being put on a pony, the pony standing in the middle of the arena with someone holding it, and being absolutely terrified every time the pony shifted its weight from one foot to another. I remember clinging to the saddle and saying I wanted the pony to just stand still. But of course this was a silly idea and not allowed.
My next memory is of trying to learn rising trot. I was about 8 years old at this point. I hadn’t had consistent riding lessons but I had had more than enough for a normal child to have mastered rising trot by now. I would do the typical rise and then bounce for a few strides, rise then bounce for a few strides. It took a long time but eventually I did master rising trot. Still on the lead rein at this point, and still holding onto the saddle.
After a couple more years, at ten years old, I could finally trot off the lead rein. I was lucky enough to be bought my very own pony, a fat, cheeky, little 12.2. I spent a long time just walking and trotting and going on hacks with my mum leading me. I probably would have carried on like this forever had it not been for instructors pushing me. I was quite happy to just have a pony, and maybe sit on it once in a while.
The first time I cantered was under the influence of peer pressure. At a party of one of my friends, I was 11 years old. We were doing lead rein gymkhana races. At the end of the day they let us all have one canter round the arena. Most of these children had never ridden before, and all had a canter around the arena. By the time it was my turn I felt I couldn’t say no, they all knew I had my own pony too, to refuse would make me a laughing stock. So, I clung to the saddle and cantered for the first time, didn’t fall off, nailed it. This gave me an unusual amount of confidence and the next time I rode my pony, I cantered for the second time. This time I did fall off.
I did, a few months later, learn to sit to a canter without falling off, but could never do it without at least one hand holding onto the pommel. My mum would stand at one end of the arena and I would canter down one side so she could stop the pony at the end.
I eventually mastered cantering without holding onto the saddle when I got my second pony aged twelve. She was a strange, beautiful, crazy pony and when I first rode her she cantered all the way round the arena without me asking her to. I remember bursting out laughing because something I had struggled with for so long was suddenly easy! The reasons for this were that she had a very comfy, steady canter and she had a dressage saddle, a Keifer no less. I have never gone back to a GP saddle. This pony gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities.
Sadly, she died a few years later, and at age fourteen I got my third pony I still have this pony eight years later (yes I am vertically challenged). By the time I got him I was mad keen on dressage. I was determined I was going to be in the Olympics (could happen bro).
By this time I had fallen off many times, mostly off my first pony but a few times off my second pony too. There had been many, many tears and feelings of giving up, but I loved horses far too much. But I still didn’t know how to really ride a horse. Cue third pony. He taught me everything I know about dressage. And he made me work for it. I suddenly had to up my game, I had to learn how to sit still, how to precisely ask for things instead of just kick and hope for the best. Many more tears of frustration came with this pony, silly little things like I couldn’t hold a schooling whip at all, I just couldn’t position my hands to hold the reins effectively whilst carrying the whip. I found it hard to tack up, there was one point where it would take me up to an hour to tack my pony up with boots and all the gear. I couldn’t do sitting trot. I had many patient instructors and soon I did my first walk trot dressage test. I was the happiest fourteen year old ever. Terrified, but proud. Over the years I built up to doing prelims and novices. I had to develop tricks and my pony had to adapt to me and the way I ask for movements. I always had a reader for my tests which helped a lot. I never got brilliant marks, but they also weren’t terrible.
After a few years I attempted my first elementary. I’m not going to lie, I felt very snazzy, very snazzy indeed. However, it did not go well, we ended up cantering down the middle of the arena instead of the long side, the odd buck over X, me bouncing all over the place, but that didn’t stop me! I carried on competing at elementary and the marks started to improve.
I never did make it to medium level, I couldn’t master sitting trot, I couldn’t quite sit to the canter without my butt coming out of the saddle, I struggled with some movements like half passes. I didn’t get chance to work on these things any further because the day I was due to compete in my first Petplan area festival, my pony damaged his suspensary ligament and chipped the bone in his leg. He was off work for a long time. After he recovered from this he developed a keratoma in one of his hooves. He’s had this removed now, but it will be another year before I can get back to riding him (so 3 years off work in total). But we will be back next year and I won’t be giving up with dressage. And It’s not all bad because I still have fat, cheeky 12.2, and am able to hack out every so often. But I missed really riding properly, so I went for a lesson at a riding school. This did not go smoothly, not at all. Up to this point I have only really ridden my own ponies, giving me time to adjust to them and learn to balance to their trot and canter. Upon cantering on the pony at the riding school, in a GP saddle I might add, I lost my stirrups, felt like I was going to fall off and came skidding to a halt in the middle of the arena. OK so I gave it a few more goes and started to only lose one stirrup after a while, but still. This was kinda depressing. So I didn’t go back.
One week later I’m talking to the psychologist I mentioned at the start. “You can ride? Well that’s not what you’d expect of someone with dyspraxia, people with dyspraxia would find that very hard and give up, so you can’t really have dyspraxia.” *Cries* You know, this upset me for a while. I did try to explain that it’s taken me a long time, but he couldn’t get his head round somebody not giving up with something so difficult. He doesn’t know anything about me and yet here he is making these assumptions. But then after a few days I realised it’s just nonsense. I’m not the worlds greatest rider and the Olympics is probably out, but I’m proud of what I, and everybody else with dyspraxia who has conquered horse riding, have achieved. So Mr. Psychologist, you’re wrong. It may take us longer, but people with dyspraxia can achieve anything.