A 26-year-old Russian-bred gelding, and inspirational instructors, have transformed the life of a young rider with Down’s syndrome.
Rory Davies, 22, had lost trust in people as a result of the challenges created by his condition, so his mother Jeanette looked into equine therapy.
Rory enjoyed riding but had not regained trust in people.
“We needed to find a horse and a person who could speak to Rory’s fear and not to his anger, someone who had all the time in the world, knowledge, patience and above all respect for Rory as a human being,” Jeanette said.
“We needed to find that person who didn’t argue back, allowed him space to breathe and process, someone who wouldn’t give up on this young man. That’s when I found myself telephoning Barguse Riding Centre.”
Barguse, owned by Lisa and Alistair Todd is accredited to the Accessibility Mark, a joint scheme run by the Riding for the Disabled Association and the British Equestrian Federation to provide more opportunities to ride for disabled people.
Within a week, Rory had had his first lesson with instructor Vicky Rowe at the centre, and went on to take part in an “own a pony day” at Barguse without Jeanette accompanying him.
Apart from Vicky, the other major influence was the bond Rory built with 16.2hh Goose, a former all-rounder who had come to the centre for a new career and at 26, “shows no signs of slowing down”.
“The change in Rory didn’t happen overnight; it was because Vicky and Lisa took a deep breath and did an assessment of Rory’s needs,” Jeanette said.
“They looked at him as an absolute individual and didn’t try to make him fit into somewhere other than the place that he was in, they slowly and carefully allowed him to develop.
“Rory made mistakes and didn’t listen at times, which was frustrating for all but it became clear they were not going to give up on him. In every lesson when Rory tried to get Vicky to argue, she didn’t. Vicky used every distraction technique and very slowly Rory learnt to trust Vicky and her instruction. Instead of giving up, he tries again and again until he gets it right. He isn’t afraid of failing and understands the process of learning now.
“At home we can apply this to literacy, numeracy and any situation that is challenging. I always ask: ‘What does Vicky say?’ Keep calm and carry on riding’ and we can laugh and move on. Vicky kindly bought Rory a mug with the motto written on it, which he uses every day.
“Sometimes when Rory feels overwhelmed with life he will stop in a lesson and cry, Vicky lets him have all the space he needs in the lesson, to work through the emotions that sometimes arise. The sensitivity and respect that comes from this wonderful woman has changed Rory’s life and all the skills that Rory has learnt he can now apply to his own life.”
‘He's an exceptional horseman who can be very proud of what he's achieved’
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Vicky said Rory has become popular at the centre, encouraging other riders and helping younger people lead their ponies.
“I’ve seen a huge improvement in Rory’s communication and language skills, problem-solving and willingness to learn and we couldn’t do it without the wonderful Goose, the kindest, most gentle and patient horse ever,” she said.
Not being able to ride owing to the coronavirus pandemic has had a “huge” impact on Rory, so Lisa has been in frequent contact, sending films of yard activity including Goose. Rory has been drawing pictures of Goose, writing poems and making a film.
“Thanks to Goose and Vicky, Rory finds himself blessed with new friends, a place to belong, and with a new view of the world,” Jeanette said.
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