After months of planning, followed by a rapid 12-week build schedule, our newest venture is finally finished!

The Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance is now complete and I’m so excited about it!

The centre is made up of a rider assessment area (including our mechanical horse), a gym and a dual-purpose sports therapy suite and classroom space. The ethos behind the development is to provide world-class facilities for rider training, assessment, rehabilitation and research, but unlike other facilities of its kind, it is accessible to all. All in all a pretty amazing result considering the space we renovated was our knockdown box and equine operating theatre!

My intention is to throw open our doors to everyone who can reap benefit from the centre, be they para-riders or non-disabled, grassroots or elite.

I think we have an amazing opportunity to help riders of all abilities and backgrounds to find new ways to improve their performance and achieve their goals and I’m currently busy scheduling in the first round of classes and clinics for this autumn and winter.

gym

I think it’s fair to say that riders still take a whole lot of flak from those within other sports who claim that we are not athletes. The naysayers argue that the horse is the real athlete, and the rider is merely a pilot. That statement plagues the credibility of riders as sportsmen and women and really gets my goat.

What doesn’t help our case is that all too often we don’t think of ourselves as athletes, and we certainly don’t treat ourselves as our counterparts competing in other sports do. Society dictates that the word athlete is a term reserved only for those who run fast, jump high and throw big. To be an athlete you must have a six pack, a sponsorship deal and a national flag on your chest.

I did a talk for a gathering of British Dressage members from the south west region last Saturday, and in true style Googled the term athlete in curiosity for its true description:

“An athlete is a person who competes in one or more sports that involve physical strength, speed and/or endurance. Athletes may be professionals or amateurs”.

Essentially this means that if you engage in competition within your chosen sport, like it or not, you’re an athlete. Yet, when I did a poll of Saturday’s 92-strong audience, only three put up their hands to claim that they thought of themselves in this vein. I want to change that.

Riders must realise their worth if we are to continue to move forward as a sport and be taken seriously by our sporting peers. Coordination, strength, balance, mental toughness, dedication, mettle and patience (in abundance) – riders have the lot. We want to create a culture whereby we recongnise these traits and treat ourselves as well as we treat our horses.

upstairs

Within the Therapy Centre we adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to the treatment, rehabilitation and training of horses, which means we utilise a number of people to bring specific expertise to one case. This works in exactly the same way as many different sports, whereby there will be a whole crew of professionals looking after a team or individual. And it is this multi-disciplinary approach that will offered by the Margaret Giffen Centre. This is the most exciting part for me, bringing difference experts together to provide all of the services we need, from rider testing and postural assessments, to strength and conditioning training and performance lifestyle advice.

The era of Lottery funding has afforded both elite and potentially elite equestrian athletes access to these services to a certain extent, but this has not yet filtered out into the wider ranks of our sport. The nice thing about this facility is that has been specifically designed to be able to cater for elite level riders, but that we can offer this out to those who wouldn’t normally get the chance access such equipment and expertise.

We will be running all sorts of sessions for Hartpury students and staff, in addition to the general equestrian public and external groups such as the RDA in the coming weeks and months. Watch this space for reports!

A grand day out

I was very happy to be invited to attend Three Counties Equine Hospital’s open day, along with my boss Kathryn, our osteopath Liz Launder and Catherine Phillips, who is head of veterinary nursing at Hartpury. I also took my horse Charlie along to take part in one of the demos, giving him his first taste of an up-close-and-personal audience, which thankfully he thought was most agreeable!

Three Counties’ practice manager Sarah Smith and her team did an amazing job of organising a great day, which featured an array of star turns, all of which was in aid of the RDA and Midlands Air Ambulance, two causes which are very close to our heart here at Hartpury.

It was a real privilege to be involved and I think these kind of events are a great opportunity for visitors to discover the inner workings of a place that you would only normally go in times of adversity. Thank you to all those involved, we all had a super day.

Fizz