Determined horsewoman Niamh Simmons has overcome a life-limiting condition to score joint sixth place in her class in a prestigious national competition for disabled riders – just months after getting back in the saddle.
Niamh (41) of Grindlow, near Buxton – whose mobility is severely restricted by multiple sclerosis – competed against riders from all over the UK to achieve the accolade in the Countryside Challenge section of the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Virtual National Championships 2021, held on September 25 and 26.
She represented Buxton-based Helen Atkin Group RDA in the senior class for riders with a leader or side walker, and said she was delighted to do so well on behalf of the group at such a high level.
“I’m very pleased – not just for myself, but also for Helen Atkin Group RDA, which made it possible for me to start riding again earlier this year,” said Niamh, who lost mobility from the waist down overnight in 2014 and steered her mount Cracker to victory using only her hands and voice.
“When I suddenly lost the function of my legs I thought I had hung up my riding hat for good, but RDA has not only given me the opportunity to get back into a sport I love, I’ve also had the chance to take part in this competition, at both regional and national level.
“I’m very fortunate to have had the chance to take part, riding such a lovely horse as Cracker, and being helped and supported by the dedicated team of volunteers at Helen Atkin Group RDA.”
Riders, volunteers and supporters of the group joined Niamh at Buxton Riding School, Fern Road, to watch her class being live streamed on YouTube from the competition venue at Hartpury in Gloucestershire, and raised their glasses to celebrate her success when the results were announced.
Commentators at the RDA Virtual National Championships described Niamh’s effort as a ‘fantastic achievement’.
Janette Sykes, Countryside Challenge co-ordinator for Helen Atkin Group RDA, added: “Although Niamh had ridden and had horses before she suddenly found herself disabled seven years ago, she only recently started riding again, so we are thrilled that she has done so well at the very highest level.”
Niamh qualified for the national competition by winning her class in the North Midlands Virtual Regional Qualifiers, which attracted almost 50 entries. Covid 19 restrictions meant that the competition was held virtually for the first time ever, with riders filmed on video and entries judged online. The process was then repeated for the national championships.
Helen Atkin Group RDA volunteers rose to the challenge by building their own obstacle course, featuring everything from milk churns and ornamental sheep to a post box and farmyard pond.
Added Niamh: “Thanks to Helen Atkin Group RDA, 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.”
Helen Atkin Group RDA is always keen to hear from anyone able to volunteer to help run its regular riding sessions at Buxton Riding School, Fern Road. Opportunities range from leading horses and assisting with riders to administration tasks and fundraising. Anyone interested is invited to contact Janine Frost at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07960 961605.