DSC_1377The University of Nottingham Equestrian club’s Inclusive Riding Sessions are breaking new ground, providing students with a disability with the opportunity to access the mental, physical and social benefits of equestrian sports. These sessions aim to display how accessible horse riding is, and to improve the accessibility of sports at higher education institutions.

Unfairly, for many people, disability is a taboo, but these Inclusive Riding Sessions provide a safe space, that is, an environment in which there is no threat of being made uncomfortable.

What started with a series of conversations has become a life changing project; Karen Ang, the club’s Inclusivity Officer, meets with riders before sessions to ensure they feel as comfortable as possible coming to a yard and sitting on a live animal with a mind of its own.

DSC_1042These sessions are just one example of many that show the therapeutic benefits of horse riding. To this group of riders, these sessions provide a sanctuary; when you’re on a horse all you think about is the footfalls of your horse and where you’re supposed to be turning. The Inclusive Riding Sessions serve as distraction therapy by engaging the riders’ entire mind and body. These sessions are the first therapy sessions some of the riders have ever wanted to return to.

Helen’s disability had left her feeling isolated, ‘I told Karen that she shouldn’t expect me to say anything at the first session,’ she tells us ‘I’d forgotten how to have a conversation.’ Her deteriorating health has meant that she cannot sit exams or submit coursework, but she is able to achieve her own personal goals through the sessions, along with making friends she wouldn’t have met if not for the programme.

We end the afternoon talking about the future expansion of the programme, 12 students currently attend the Inclusive Riding Sessions regularly, and these have become vital in managing both disabilities and mental health conditions.

DSC_0779The reality is that there is still so much more to do to encourage accessible sport at university, but the Inclusive Riding Sessions offer distraction and therapy along with the invaluable chance to make friends in an environment made accessible to all. Helen tells us she has no idea where she’d be if it weren’t for these sessions, ‘if we can change even one life in the way mine has been changed, then we need to.’

If you’re wondering how sports at higher education can be made accessible, or if you’d like to know more about the Inclusive Riding Sessions, please contact Karen Ang by emailing nottsunirda@gmail.com from the University of Nottingham Equestrian Club or visit www.uonequestrian.com/#!riding-for-the-disabled/j8xfw for more information.