Pippa started riding just before she was three years old, at our local RDA centre.
Pippa’s Grandma had been a jockey in her youth as well as a riding instructor, but she hadn’t ridden for many years and was sadly terminally ill. Through her doctor we arranged for her to have a session at the RDA centre and the plan was for her and Pippa to ride together but by the time we arranged it, Grandma was too poorly to ride. She did come along with us though and was very emotional to see Pippa start riding. She died not long after and I know she would have been so proud to see how far Pippa has come in the 12 years that she has been riding.
That first session involved an instructor, a leader and two side walkers, just to keep Pippa safely on the little pony. She wobbled all over the place and her facial expression showed that she wasn’t sure she liked it! After she got off, she looked at the pony, looked at me, signed “more” and smiled – that was the start of her riding journey.
Pippa has now been riding for 12 years and what she has achieved is beyond my wildest dreams! When she started, she spent literally years just walking round the riding school on the lead rein, trotting a little and not much else. At the time, I never thought she’d be able to ride independently.
We carried on riding at that stables but I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress and then Pippa had a horror fall – despite being on the lead rein, the horse (which was too big for her) bolted leaving the leader behind and Pippa hanging on, screaming. Eventually, the horse took a corner sharply and Pippa was flung off into the boarding around the side of the school. She was OK in herself but we took her to hospital to have her shoulder xrayed as that was the part that collided with the boarding – thankfully it wasn’t broken, just badly bruised. For me, I was shaken and my confidence in that riding school had gone, so I looked around locally for somewhere else.
Through a friend I found a small stables specialising in children’s riding lessons. At that time they only took children aged 4-12 years and all their ponies were Shetlands or small breeds (thankfully they’ve expanded since then – Pippa is 15 now and still there!). It wasn’t an RDA riding school and the lead instructor, Vicky, didn’t have any particular experience in teaching children with Down syndrome or special needs, but she was enthusiastic, keen to learn all about Pippa and very excited to work with us. Most importantly, she was smiley and bubbly and after a trial lesson, Pippa took to her immediately. A new chapter begun.
Pippa started riding a Shetland called Gonzo and a really strong rider-pony bond was quickly established. Gonzo seemed to instinctively know that he had to look after Pippa and she absolutely adored him. They became a partnership that lasted 6 years until Dec 2020 when Pippa finally outgrew him and has had to move onto a slightly bigger Shetland called Roly Mo.
Vicky didn’t see any limitations with Pippa and taught her in a style that was totally geared to Pippa. There was no requirement for Pippa to be able to do one thing before she tried the next thing – everything was done on the lead rein and Pippa progressed from trotting to poles to small jumps, to cantering, to bigger jumps and interspersed with that was lessons just walking and “steering” and then walking off lead rein, trotting off lead rein and small jumps off lead rein. I could never have imagined when we were at the previous stables that Pippa would even trot off the lead rein so this was amazing! Best of all, I felt totally confident in Vicky and Gonzo to keep Pippa safe even though she was doing more difficult things, because after her big fall I had become very nervous. Vicky also did lessons on stable care and Pippa learned to brush, hoof pick and look after Gonzo as well as learning the parts of the pony, parts of the saddle and parts of the bridle. She has passed levels 1, 2 and 3 of the school’s internal certificates and in 2019 Pippa and Gonzo competed in the level 1-4 Pony Show with an external judge coming in to do the marking.
With help, Pippa prepared Gonzo and he looked immaculate with his beautifully plaited tail (Mum did that!). Pippa wore a collared shirt, tie, jacket and riding leggings and looked the smartest I have ever seen her! Vicky had done lots of lessons to practise exactly what Pippa would be required to do, and on the day she performed everything brilliantly. She was able to answer the Judge’s questions (the Judge had been asked to give Pippa a little extra time) about Gonzo’s age, breed and colour and led him confidently around the arena. In the walking, trotting and jumping (low jumps!) Pippa and Gonzo were fabulous and at the end of the show they were awarded 3rd place! Pippa was so happy and rightly very proud of herself.
Lockdown has meant a break from riding and in that time Pippa has grown and sadly outgrown Gonzo so she’s now moved on to another, slightly bigger, Shetland called Roly Mo who happens to be Gonzo’s best friend! Roly is very different to Gonzo and so now Pippa is having to adapt her riding style to get the best from Roly but they are working well together and I’m sure this will be another strong rider-pony relationship. Despite not riding for months at a time due to COVID, Pippa has remembered most of her skills and Vicky and I are excited to see Pippa progress now on Roly.
We are all so thankful to have found Vicky and her ponies and I know that Grandma will be very proud seeing Pippa follow in her horse riding footsteps and doing so well.