Disabled Buxton horserider wins comeback competition seven years after losing the use of her legs
A horserider from Grindlow who lost the use of her legs seven years ago has qualified for a prestigious national competition just months after getting back in the saddle.
Niamh Simmons, 41, took first place in the Countryside Challenge regional qualifiers for the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Virtual National Championships, and will go on to represent Buxton’s Helen Atkin Group RDA in September.
Living with multiple sclerosis, Niamh lost mobility from the waist down overnight in 2014 and feared her love of horseriding had come to an end.
As she came top in the competition’s senior class for riders with a leader or side walker, Niamh steered her mount Cracker to victory using only her hands and voice.
She said: “I thought I had hung up my riding hat for good, but thanks to the Helen Atkin group I have not only got back on a horse, I have done so well in this competition.
“Even though the opportunity came up so soon after I started riding again, I was keen to support it by taking part. I never thought for a moment that I would win.
She added: “Being able to do the Countryside Challenge gave me the chance to dare to dream. When you find someone like Cracker, who will willingly lend you their legs when you can’t use your own, anything’s possible – even winning, apparently.
“I am back on a horse, happy and looking forward to the time I spend riding, which makes my disability disappear. With the volunteers’ support and the kindness of horses, I am very much more than I am on my own. RDA makes the seemingly impossible possible, and, through the possible, graceful.”
Covid restrictions meant that the competition was held virtually for the first time ever, with riders filmed navigating an obstacle course of milk churns, ornamental sheep, a post box and farmyard pond, and entries judged online.
Niamh was one of 11 junior and senior riders representing Helen Atkin RDA in the regional qualifiers, which attracted almost 50 entries.
Janette Sykes, the group’s Countryside Challenge coordinator, said: “Although Niamh had ridden and had horses before she suddenly found herself disabled, she has only recently joined us, so we are extra proud of her fantastic achievement.
“We’ll all be rooting for her now that she is going on to represent us in this year’s national championships. Competition in the regional qualifiers was tough, and the national test will be even stiffer, but we’ll be supporting her all the way.”
Others who scored individual success were Hannah Webster, who came second in the same class as Niamh; Becky Edwards, who achieved fifth place in the class for senor independent riders; and Hamish Dicken, who came sixth in the class for junior independent riders.
Riders unable to enter the regional competition did not miss out on the fun – they joined in an in-house competition and all those who took part took home a rosette.
Janette said: “In our eyes, all our riders are winners, but Niamh’s success really is the icing on the cake.”
Helen Atkin Group RDA is always open to new volunteers who can assist with riding and stable duties at Buxton Riding School, or back office tasks and fundraising. For more information, contact [email protected] or 07960 961605.