Rider immortalises her ‘soul horse’ to give back to the RDA

  • A rider who suffers from chronic pain and mobility issues has immortalised the special bond she shared with her horse in a children’s book, which she is selling to raise money for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

    Jade Leahy’s inclusive story Horses Can Roll But They Can’t Roller Skate, which has been nominated for an Equus film and arts award, stars her Fjord Odin, who she lost at the age of 35 in 2018.

    The book was inspired by her childhood desire for “roller skates and ballet shoes”, so she could join in with her friends’ hobbies, and her realisation that although she couldn’t participate, she could ride instead.

    In the story, Molly, a girl who is in a wheelchair, meets Odin the horse, a Fjord who longs to be bay and take part in Pony Club games.

    “Odin was truly my soul horse,” said Jade, who has been involved with horses since she was two years old. “I had the idea to write a story several years ago and drafted it but thought I was being ridiculous and could never publish it.

    “Then, after Odin passed away, I couldn’t bear to look at it but when I was furloughed, the Covid situation made me a bit gung ho and I thought ‘if I don’t do it now I will never do it’.

    “I know that with every child who reads his story, Odin lives on a bit.”

    Jade explained that she had struggled to replace Odin, whose special empathetic bond with her meant that she was able to ride him alone around the local lanes in Devon.

    “He was my greatest joy, I could hack him anywhere,” she said. “I struggle with my balance but I could canter him, and if I wobbled he would stop. We were very close.”

    Jade, who has to ride in a western saddle, subsequently had a couple of ponies on loan but could not get on with them. More recently, she bought an eight-year-old cob called Rosie.

    “She is happy to plod but it is quite hard for me on a horse as I can’t really use my legs,” she said. “I trusted Odin but with Rosie I was so terrified I was back on a lead rein to begin with, with people standing around me.”

    One of the people who has been helping Jade regain her confidence in the saddle is an RDA instructor and this prompted her to sell her book, which has been illustrated free of charge by Julie Hollinshead, to raise money for the charity.

    “If it hadn’t have been for her I would have given up,” Jade said. “Lockdown presented the perfect time for me to publish Odin’s story, with the motivation to give something back to the RDA.

    “Throughout my life people have asked ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and I thought it was a chance to encourage younger people to read the book, change perceptions, encourage positivity and hopefully get some children to think ‘maybe I could ride or roller skate’.”

    During lockdown Jade also started a podcast, for which she has interviewed inspirational people including multiple para dressage medallist Natasha Baker.

    She also launched a clothing range with which she hopes to raise money for World Horse Welfare.

    “Riding for me is about freedom from pain, it has helped to keep me mobile and I think we can take for granted how much horses give us. It was another way for me to give something back,” she said.

    “While I ride, I will also never be eventing or showjumping, but if other people who can do those things wear my logo then in a way I am joining in.

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    “I’ve applied for entrepreneurial funding as I would love to scale up my clothing as a platform to encourage other women with disabilities to follow their ideas,” she added.

    Her future plans include creating colouring resource sheets to give away free with copies of her book and she has also had toy versions of Odin created by Crafty Ponies, which she hopes to sell with Odin’s story at Olympia this year.

    Odin’s book, which has sold several hundred copies so far, and reached readers in the US, New Zealand and Japan, is available on Amazon. The book, toy ponies and Horse Power clothing are also available via Jade’s website.

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