‘The unifying power of sport’: four riders to represent Britain at the Special Olympics World Games

  • Four riders will represent Britain at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin this summer.

    The Special Olympics, which run every four years and are recognised by the International Olympic Committee, provide training and competition opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. This year’s Games (17–25 June) will welcome 7,000 athletes across 26 sports – including equestrian, with riders taking part in dressage, jumping, English equitation and working trails (an obstacle-based competition similar to Trec), on horses provided by the host country.

    The riders selected to represent Britain are Phillip Palmer, 37, Christopher Bradley, 36, Millie Boult, 36, and 17-year-old Lauren White, who will all be taking part in dressage, jumping and working trails.

    Head coach Julia Gourley, who helped the British equestrian team to 17 medals at the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, told H&H the Games give athletes with learning disabilities an opportunity to compete on a worldwide basis.

    “You really see the athletes’ sense of confidence and independence grow throughout the process. I’m hugely proud of the riders, to be selected and to go and compete for their country on strange horses is a huge achievement,” she said.

    “The Games are not for everybody, because for some going to another country, being away from home, and competing, can be a little bit too much out of their comfort zone. For the selection process, everyone had to have qualified by already competing at a national competition.

    “We’ve had a training weekend with the riders at Sparsholt College, where they also used the mechanical horse which is really useful for working on their positions and use of aid, and we also had a session in Birmingham where the riders got together with athletes from other sports too.”

    Phillip Palmer told H&H he was “really excited and proud” to be selected.

    “I have always wanted to be a part of Special Olympics Great Britain to compete internationally and it feels amazing to be a part of them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the training weekends and can’t wait to compete in Berlin to show them what an amazing team we are and what we can do.”

    Lauren White said riding horses had “helped me so much”, and her mother Esther added that the Special Olympics is a “wonderful opportunity”.

    “While there is so much good going on with increasing inclusiveness, there are still so many areas in life that exclude or judge or struggle to know how to respond to a lively ADHD young lady and all the challenges that brings for her in life,” Esther told H&H.

    “The Games will help not only her with more equestrian experience, but also help her to be more confident and independent as she grows up into the wonderful human being she is.”

    Philip and Sharon Boult, Millie’s parents, said their daughter has “worked so hard and come such a long way” in confidence and independence since she started riding – and Geoff and Veronica Bradley, parents of Christopher, said their son’s selection was the start of an “epic adventure”.

    All four riders are members of Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) groups, and an RDA spokesman told H&H the charity is “delighted” that equestrian sport is still “such an integral part” of the Special Olympics World Games.

    “The games are a tangible demonstration of the unifying power of sport, and a fantastic opportunity to showcase the skills and accomplishments of athletes with intellectual disabilities on the world stage,” he said.

    A British Equestrian spokesman told H&H the organisation is “very proud” of the athletes competing under the British flag.

    “We wish them and their supporters the best of luck and hope all their hard work and dedication is successful,” said the spokesman.

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...