Alfie (pictured top) and I were kindly invited recently to join our friends who are disabled and para drivers for a wonderful weekend camp at Unicorn Equestrian Centre, Stow-on-the-Wold.
It was a brilliant event which everyone really enjoyed. The drivers and their helpers arrived on Friday afternoon with plenty of time to settle in and socialise before starting training over the weekend.
As we were all keen to work on schooling in all three phases of horse driving trials we were given individual help from experienced national trainers Sara Howe and Rachel Belliere-Wilson. As well as flatwork we all worked on our cones accuracy and obstacle driving skills with tremendous encouragement from the trainers and everyone watching.
Alfie was rather rebellious and reluctant to soften in his flatwork, which was partly due to having cones set out in the arena. Alfie adores cones and feels it is his forte — and the faster the better! It was a good opportunity — if a bit of a challenge — to insist on slow and steady, although he was allowed to pick up speed in the obstacle practice!
For several of us it was our first time at para camp capably organised by Margaret Brockie of the RDA. Tristan Garrett was the youngest attendee and he was soon grinning from ear to ear as he drove up alongside the trainers. He is mad keen to do more in driving and on the Sunday of camp he and his mum stole away to go to view an experienced driving pony. This they bought and will be bringing to all the driving activities they can, including future driving camps.
Carriage driving is one of the few activities, and especially one of the few sports, where disabled drivers can compete on parity with able bodied drivers due to the fact that you are sitting in a secure carriage seat and can have lap strap support and other aids to assist you. This means most drivers can compete using the mainstream carriages designed for pleasure or specifically for driving trials.
Jamie Williams was also a first timer at the camp. Jamie, who is wheelchair bound, won the tandem class driving at the national indoor finals at Keysoe this year. Tandem driving is notoriously difficult since you are steering one horse ahead of another to complete all the movements and changes of pace and direction. To win at national level in the challenging fast paced indoor championships is positive proof that disability does not hold you back in driving!
At Camp RDA wheelchair users were able to take advantage of the purpose built Fenix carriage that is designed for the wheelchair itself to be rolled up and locked into the driver’s position. This is a fantastic innovation in design as in all other respects it is an efficient modern three phase carriage.
The weekend flew by with everyone having a couple of hours driving each day and feasting on the most amazing hot meals provided by Fran from the Unicorn Centre. There were lots of opportunities to relax and chat, and meetings in the evenings. At these they held the AGM and the discussion about the forthcoming World Championships.
Team GB will be sending their more experienced drivers to take part and the hopefuls will be driving the FEI Para test at selection events at Windsor Regional and Ashfields National Horse Driving Trials. The FEI World Para-Equestrian Driving Championships are in Holland in the first week of August so it’s a busy time training and preparing for everyone in the exciting run up!
Read more from Emily:
Everyone involved with the RDA and the para drivers group — CDSG–dd (the Carriage Driving Sports Group for Drivers with Disabilities) is enthusiastic and approachable. The volunteers are amazing and, like the drivers, everyone wants to enjoy the whole experience of carriage driving and is incredibly supportive.
Alfie and I loved camp! It was focussed but also very friendly and great fun!