A young rider and film-maker campaigning for showjumping to be included in the Paralympics says the last year has been a “breathtaking experience”.
Ashleigh Harley, who suffers from connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, has been making a documentary to raise awareness of para showjumping, while also meeting officials with the aim of the sport becoming part of the Paralympics in future (news, 9 May 2019).
Ashleigh’s filming has taken her to the Horse of the Year Show, where she rode Tim Stockdale’s King George V-winning ride Kalico Bay, to a ride at Bath Racecourse, and the British Showjumping National Championships in August, where she met and filmed para riders including Evie Toombes.
She hopes the film will be ready to view this spring, and that it will help change perceptions.
“The weird thing is that every time we roll the cameras, it’s exactly as I imagined and hoped it would be,” Ashleigh told H&H.
“I’ve never had that with a film before; for something to come out exactly as you hoped. It’s been a breathtaking experience, and as my health has been getting worse, this has been the only thing keeping me going.”
As part of the project, Ashleigh also met para equestrian committee chairman Amanda Bond, at the FEI para equestrian forum in France last year.
“Different countries need to agree the rules and standards for it to become an international sport but it was a really positive experience,” Ashleigh said.
“Everyone was so supportive. Of course there were concerns about things like safety, but when you see how incredible the riders are, and the amazing bond they have with the horses, you can see there’s something special there.
“I hope when people see this film they’ll be blown away by what these riders are doing and support this sport, because it’s life-changing.
“What I really want is for any horse person watching the film to come away knowing it doesn’t matter what adversity they’re dealing with, they can be anything they want to be. And of course with horses, who are such good friends, you’re not different.
“Having an illness or disability can make you feel so alone and separate, but the human-horse partnership gives you the sense of being part of something.
“I hope this film will let people see all this with their own eyes, and then action can be taken.”
An FEI spokesman told H&H Ms Bond’s meeting with Ashleigh, during which she was filmed for the documentary, was “very positive”.
“Amanda describes Ashleigh as a ‘truly special person’ and was very impressed by her passion and commitment to para equestrian sport,” he said.
“She has recommended Ashleigh continues to work towards her goal through collaboration with, initially, the British Equestrian Federation, and with the ultimate aim of creating a well-structured competition format and sufficient global participation that will allow a proposal to be put to the FEI.”
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