Tales from the RDA Champs: ‘They have helped me become who I am today’

Despite being profoundly deaf and autistic and having learning disabilities, para showjumper and Riding for the Disabled (RDA) rider Matt Dalley had a busy yet successful weekend at the RDA National Championships (13-15 July at Hartpury, Gloucestershire), jumping the only clear to win the Grade II class. He also scored 71.5% in the Grade IV dressage championship for sixth place, all riding his 15-year-old gelding Wimbledon II, aka Womble. On Sunday he was awarded a gold medal for the RDA’s online dressage championships, and all this while updating social media pages for a variety of different RDA channels and training his assistance dog Rolo. Is there anything this guy can’t do?

“I’m profoundly deaf so communicate through sign language,” said Matt. “I was born with a brain condition which has affected my muscle strength and coordination, particularly on the right side of my body, so I’m quite weak on that side. It’s difficult for me to co-ordinate myself and I don’t have great use of my hands, which affects me quite a lot when I’m riding. I am autistic as well and have learning difficulties.

“The RDA have really helped me develop and given me lots of opportunities, both on a horse and off, to become who I am today. I do the social media for my RDA group and for the RDA region, and help with publicity for the national office as well. I love it because it’s a really great way for me to communicate and stay in touch with people.”

Matt with Womble and Rolo

Matt has been based at the Scropton RDA group in Derbyshire, who celebrated their Jubilee year in 2015, since he was six-years-old. He has progressed from riding ponies on the lead-rein to competing successfully in both dressage and showjumping at British Dressage prelim level and British Showjumping 80cm level, as well as riding in para showjumping events and even jumping in the Special Olympics.

“I started competing at the RDA National Championships in 2005 and have always really enjoyed the chance to be able to compete and be involved in the team,” continued Matt. “It’s a great thing to do and I make lots of friends being here. It started with dressage doing a walk and trot test and that has developed into where I am now. My dream would be to have para showjumping at the Olympics.”

Matt bought his faithful steed Womble a year ago.

“He’s always been a showjumper so he’s very experienced and has improved my jumping a lot. He is a super horse and we are working really well together. I’ve got a great coach Jayne Hughes who works with me and rides Womble, so she knows us both well and can get the best out of us. I have an air-filled saddle which helps minimise my imbalance because I am one sided. I use special reins which help me grip them, and I use magnetic stirrups which help keep my feet in place.”

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Outside of horses, Matt sees a sport therapist regularly.

“My sport therapist Anna Mulrenan is a rider herself, so she knows how to help me and gives me exercises that will help with my riding. We look at videos of my riding and find areas that need working on and she then helps with my strength and core.”

Matt also enjoys spending time with his assistance dog Rolo.

“I am training her to be an assistance dog,” he said. “She has been living with me for six months now and I’m loving it. She’s such a good companion. She is very good with the horses and it makes me feel calm and gives me confidence when I’m out and about with her. She is the next most important thing after riding.”

“I really cant thank the RDA enough for everything they have done and continue to do for me. I hope to stay a part of the RDA for a long time.”

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