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Horse riding feels like floating for championship winner Naomi

Taking up riding has been incredibly therapeutic for the 48-year-old mum who was diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy nine years ago. Naomi Smith has worked hard with her Welsh Riding for the Disabled (RDA) group, coming third this year in the National Championships in dressage as a Grade 4 rider.

Now she wants to inspire others with muscle-wasting conditions to take up the sport that has given her so much joy.

I have been very determined to continue riding despite my decreasing ability. I love the feeling of effortless travel over the ground. I have a connection with our pony, based on trust and harmony, and it gives me a really wonderful floating feeling. The highlight has been to achieve this with a family pony, who was not bred for competition but who has exceeded all expectations as an RDA pony. Long term, riding has huge benefits for my mental and physical health. You cannot force a horse to do a good job; they have to want to work with you, but they don’t judge you and they are incredibly forgiving. That’s all part of the feel-good factor, plus being outside in the fresh air!

Of course it’s taken some work to establish the relationship, and I have a great coach who has helped me become a much better technical rider. As I cannot rely on strength, I use my seat, balance and voice to give clear signals.

2021 was the first year Naomi competed for the RDA as an independent rider. She lives near Cardiff with her husband, three daughters and, as she says, “a lazy whippet”.

Although she learned to ride as a child, she had a long break after moving to Wales and starting a family, and only took it up again after her diagnosis.

I would like to compete again at the National Championships, as I did very well. But I’d like to do even better, and I’d like to continue to improve my riding and compete at some able-bodied shows too.

Naomi urges others to try riding with their local RDA group. There are many activity areas, including carriage- driving which is one form of competitive horse driving in harness in which larger two or four wheeled carriages (often restored antiques) are pulled by a single horse, a pair, tandem or a four-in-hand team.
Some RDA groups also have mechanical horses (simulators) to give the feel of riding before you try the real thing, or just by itself for a balance workout.

Do you take part in an accessible sport that you’d like to tell our community about? 

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