‘You can’t be disabled if you ride’: para equestrian speaks out after discriminatory bullying

  • A para rider who has raised thousands for charity by pushing herself to her limits and beyond said being told she was not disabled as she rides horses “absolutely broke me”.

    Kirstie McPherson’s medical conditions mean she suffers frequent dislocations, twisting limbs and periods of blindness and paralysis. She has connective tissue disorder Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS), neurological disorder generalised dystonia, and suffers with hemiplegic migraines.

    Despite this, she has raised thousands of pounds for the air ambulance with a 51-mile trek on Dartmoor, riding part of it with a dislocated knee, part blind in one eye, bruised and with broken skin.

    So when she became the target of bullying; shouted abuse, cars blocking her wheelchair access and worse, Kirstie told H&H: “I was devastated.

    “My horses are all that keep me going; they make me get out of bed in the morning, and this stopped me wanting to go to the yard.”

    Things had been tough anyway as Kirstie’s loan horse Mimi had been diagnosed with a skeletal issue that meant she had to be retired aged six.

    “She’s my everything and to be told she couldn’t be ridden was like losing my best friend,” she said. “Then there were these people; saying how could I be disabled when I rode, and that they’d seen me running two years ago so I couldn’t be disabled. I’ve never been able to run with my children because I can’t do it. That’s what was so hurtful. You can’t say things like that to people.”

    Kirstie wanted to point out, as has been said before, that not all disabilities and illnesses are visible, and that people may be struggling under the weight of burdens no one else can see.

    “To say ‘How can you be disabled if you ride’; I was a bit stunned,” she said. “Have they not heard of the Paralympics?

    “It’s about people’s perception. Sir Lee Pearson put up a video of how he is got on to a horse the other day and I was in shock. You just see this fantastic rider and lovely person, you don’t think about how he gets on his horse; you never see the challenges people have to face.”

    But there have been positives for Kirstie too. Wow saddles got in touch after her ride to say they would sponsor her, an offer that stood even after Mimi had to be retired.

    “The director sent me a lovely email saying ‘I’m sorry to hear about your dear friend’, and that the offer was there if I found another horse,” Kirstie said.

    “Then my friend heard of someone who’d bred a horse to event but she was a bit small. We drove up to see her and she’s only 14.3hh but I jumped on her, went round the gallops and thought ‘She’s the one’. For me to get on a strange horse and gallop it — but it was Mimi who gave me that confidence back.”

    Dashy came home, and was fitted with her Wow saddle, and Kirstie is now planning two more fundraising rides this year.

    “I want to highlight to people that it’s what you can do, not what you can’t, that matters,” she said. “If my disability gives me one thing, it’s the power to help other people, by fundraising for a charity all of us might need one day, and I won’t stop for the likes of those disgusting people.”

    Kirstie said she had never come across disability discrimination before and the bullying “made me feel suicidal”.

    “Every day, I have to deal with not knowing if I’m going to wake up blind or paralysed,” she said. “People don’t realise what my kids have to do to care for me. Horses are the one thing that brings me peace and a reason to get up, and they made it feel like there was some sordid thing behind it.

    “I won’t be a high-flying dressage or endurance rider, or go to the Paralympics, but I can help other people, and I’m going to keep going until I really can’t do it any more.”

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