As some disabled individuals are finding they are unable to complete their equestrian qualifications after being accepted on courses, H&H investigates the issue and asks what the solutions are...
Blowing a breath of fresh air through the equestrian industry in terms of inclusivity in relation to physical disabilities could have benefits across the board.
This is the view of students and teachers who have come across barriers – not necessarily in riding, but in working with horses.
H&H spoke to Jemima Croft, who is studying for a foundation degree in equine science and management, and staff from Myerscough College, Lancashire.
Jen Greenhalgh and Charlotte Brigden, head and assistant head respectively of equine at the college, agree with Jemima that while huge progress has been made in riding for those with physical disabilities, recognition of disabled workers in the industry is not well established.
Jemima, who has functional neurological disorder which causes many complex neurological and joint issues, moved to Myerscough a year ago. Despite the fact she had been unable to complete practical assessments in her previous foundation qualification, the college accepted her, and has ensured she has everything she needs to progress.
But as she was told by examining bodies that she could not undertake the lungeing assessments, she does not have that part of the qualification. Jemima sometimes uses a wheelchair and sometimes sticks, and lunges with a stick in each hand, while being able to control the horse, which the bodies do not feel is safe.
“Myerscough has been my first positive experience as a disabled person in education,” Jemima told H&H. “There’s so much in place there; there’s not been a single time I’ve felt disabled. I was able to get on with my studies, without having to prove myself.
“But because I don’t lunge like an able-bodied person does, I can’t progress.”
Ms Greenhalgh told H&H changes to vocational qualifications were brought in as a result of a report some years ago.
“There had been options for people who were unable to complete mandatory units; with some adjustments, it was possible to have successful students, and Jemima would have been one of them,” she said. “But the qualifications were said to be not fit for purpose. So they were revamped, and now are fit for purpose, if you can do everything.
“Now, with Jemima’s lungeing, there’s no option or moveability. So we see someone like her, totally capable if you make reasonable adjustments, but there’s not enough ability for her to progress and get the qualification.”
Jemima’s concern is that if she cannot get qualified, she will not be able to become a disabled worker in the equestrian industry.
“I feel my disability isn’t what makes me disabled, it’s more society,” she said. “I’ve had my issues eight years and am pretty clued up on what I can and can’t do; the bigger issues are put in place by other people, making me more disabled than I actually am.”
Ms Greenhalgh believes the industry has scope to reflect on its views and actions in this area, and that while cost is sometimes cited as a barrier to “reasonable adjustments”, “I think sometimes we need to blow some fresh air in, and look for possibilities, rather than closing doors”.
Jemima agreed, adding: “This needs to be positive. Why don’t we look at the fact there’s a minority group here that could have a positive influence?
“I’ve got hypersensitivity and can feel a horse is going to spook before it does, I’m very good at problem-solving, because I do that every day.
“There are things a disabled rider can do or pick up on that an able-bodied person couldn’t. That could help develop the industry.
“There’s so much been done for riding for people with disabilities, but I just want to work and can’t; if we could apply that positivity to the workforce, and have an open mind, I think that would solve the one thing holding us back.”
Rachel Wade, whose 17-year-old daughter Ash was told by her college she could not complete certain practical assessments owing to her lack of vision, agrees about the need for change.
“Absolutely there are health and safety considerations,” she told H&H. “But Ash does these things every day. I’m confident she can pass but they’re not even allowing her the chance to fail because she’s blind; that’s wrong.
“The worst thing the college has done is not just deprive her of her education; they’ve imposed their limiting beliefs on her.
“Education should be at the forefront of empowering people with disabilities, but every person in Ash’s class is seeing that she can’t do things because she’s blind. What message does that send?”
British Horse Society (BHS) director of education Alex Copeland told H&H the BHS’s aim is to “promote equity, diversity and equality of opportunity in assessment, and facilitate the widest possible range of candidates”.
“A reasonable adjustment is an alteration to an assessment that will enable a candidate to participate on a fair basis,” he said.
“Although adjustments cannot be made to the assessment criteria, the BHS makes many reasonable adjustments to the process to ensure candidates can access the qualification. Examples of this include adjusted or specialist tack, providing a translator or person who can sign, and allowing additional time.
“The BHS welcomes applications from candidates requiring reasonable adjustments, and we carefully consider each application. On average, we arrange around 250 assessments every year, in all parts of the UK, for candidates who have requested reasonable adjustment on the grounds of permanent or temporary conditions.
“Our efforts are ongoing, with a working group to focus specifically on how we can continue to enhance our reasonable adjustment process to ensure all our qualifications are widely accessible. The group consists of our qualifications awarding body Activity Alliance, Riding for the Disabled Association, and other industry professionals. This aims to complete in autumn 2020.”
The Department for Education told H&H all students must have equal access to assessment.
“All qualifications have special arrangements and consideration to ensure all students can access assessments,” a spokesman said. “Colleges can, and should, apply to their awarding organisation for consideration for any students affected by circumstances out of their control or may be suffering from a condition or illness that could disadvantage them.
“Changes brought in following the Wolf Review of Vocational Qualifications in 2011 did not affect the need for all awarding organisations and all providers to ensure that all students had equal access to assessment.”
You may also be interested in…
There are many colleges offering equestrian courses, so how do you know which one is right for you?
Are you wondering how you’re going to land your dream job in the equestrian industry when you leave college or
From racing to horse care, H&H finds out how to bag your place on some of Britain’s most popular equestrian