‘Memories to last a lifetime’: medals galore for British riders at Special Olympics World Games

  • British riders shone at the Special Olympics World Games – winning 11 medals and building “memories that will last a lifetime”.

    The Special Olympics World Games, which run every four years, provide training and competition opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, in 26 sports. This year’s Games took place in Berlin, where riders competed on horses provided by the host country.

    In the A level category (walk, trot and canter), Christopher Bradley won gold in dressage, equitation, and working trails, and Phillip Palmer won silver in these events. In the B level (walk and trot), Millie Boult won gold in dressage, bronze in working trails and she was fourth in equitation. Lauren White won silver in dressage and gold in equitation and working trails.

    Pictured: Head coach Julia Gourley, riders, Lauren White, Millie Boult, Christopher Bradley, and Phillip Palmer, and coach Bridget Mackwood

    British team head coach Julia Gourley told H&H the team rode “so well” and it was a “huge honour” to coach them.

    “Special Olympics give opportunities for people with learning difficulties to compete in a level playing field, and to be a valued member of a team. They are able to show the world their ability rather than their disability,” she said.

    “The Games help athletes develop not just as riders, but as they stay for the two weeks away from their families, they gain more independence, team spirit, social and communication skills, responsibility and confidence. As a team, we also have a lot of fun.”

    Veronica Bradley, Christopher’s mother, told H&H the whole family has been on an “amazing adventure”, and she cannot thank Special Olympics Great Britain enough.

    “Chris has memories to last a lifetime and all the team and their parents have forged lasting friendships,” she said.

    “To bring home a medal of any description for his country would have been marvellous, but to win the first gold had us in tears, and the second made us speechless. Chris was under pressure to deliver the third, as we knew how much it meant to him to have the ‘full house’ – it’s still sinking in. We hope that Chris’s success will inspire others to get involved with Special Olympics. It’s a wonderful experience.”

    Phillip said competing at the Games was a “dream come true”.

    “The whole experience was breathtaking – from the opening ceremony to competing against other countries,” he said, adding that the team could not have done it without the support of Julia, and coach Bridget Mackwood.

    “I’ve always seen us as a strong team from the beginning. We are unbeatable together”

    Sharon Boult, Millie’s mother, said the Games had given Millie “enormous pride” in herself and her abilities as a horsewoman. Esther White, Lauren’s mother, said it was an “honour” to be at the Games, watching her daughter represent her country.

    A Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) spokesman told H&H the association is “so proud” of the team.

    “The competitors have excelled taking home a host of medals, and demonstrating everything the Special Olympics and RDA stand for in celebrating the inclusion and achievement of athletes with intellectual disabilities,” she said.

    “Christopher, Phillip, Millie and Lauren represent RDA groups from across the UK and came together for the first time in Berlin, and plan to reunite at the RDA National Championships at Hartpury next month. We can’t wait to welcome them there.”

    Multiple medal-winning German eventer Bettina Hoy attended the Special Olympics as an equestrian ambassador and told H&H the experience was “mind-blowing”, and “very humbling”.

    “If you think how difficult it must be in some cases to ride a horse that you know, but to do it on a borrowed horse and build a partnership in a short space of time, I found that fascinating,” she said.

    Bettina added that as a coach in Germany, she would like to see more workshops made available to coaches to give them the experience of teaching riders with intellectual disabilities.

    “There was one rider on the podium who was autistic, and I know as an instructor I wouldn’t know how to approach this. We have therapeutic riding here, but it’s really in the bigger cities and is quite expensive, but if more centres have specially trained coaches, this would open more opportunities. The effect horses have on these riders is undeniable.”

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