All eight finalists made the trip from various parts of the country to compete in this ground-breaking finale, judged by former RDA national chairman Jane Holderness-Roddam, injured showing and hunting enthusiast Rob Walker and Addington proprietor Tim Price.
Kathryn, 42, has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties but delivered a polished performance with her family’s smart gelding, Westpoint First of Many, whom she describes as “very loving, easy-going and laid-back.”
“We knew he was a superstar, but when we got here we saw seven other superstars,” said Kathryn’s mother Jan. “I texted home after Kathryn had done her individual show and said we thought we’d done OK, but there was some pretty stiff competition to beat.”
Second place went to Saffron Walden, Essex-based Lizzie Bennett, who rode the coloured horse Rolo side saddle with specially adapted reins. Lizzie, 27, used to have her own horse but had to sell him when she broke her back doing gymnastics about 13 years ago.
“I joined the RDA about three years ago and it’s worked really well,” she said. “I wish I’d done it before.” Her weakened left arm is due to a genetic condition that also affects her left shoulder. “It’s not helped by the fact that I keep falling off and landing on it,” she admitted.
Kayla Pratt, from Guisborough, North Yorkshire, finished third with the smart coloured native pony Hunky Dory. Kayla, 15, who has educational special needs, started with RDA at the age of six and is a member of Stokesley RDA Group.
Imogen Darke, 18, from Ashburton, Devon, was fourth. Imogen suffered a severe head injury in an accident at the age of 11 and spent two months in a coma. She has little peripheral vision but rode Chandaem My Guy, her family’s 14-year-old hunter, with great aplomb.
“As a family, we’ve been involved with horses all our lives and we’re very lucky as the Erme Valley RDA group — which Imogen has attended for the past three years — is only 10 minutes from our home,” said her father Ross. “This is a fabulous competition and we’d like to thank everyone involved for giving up their time and SEIB for launching it.”
Vicky Nurcombe and Fabrication, from Loughborough, Leics, finished fifth. Vicky, who suffered a major stroke and then broke her back, is another in full support of the SEIB concept.
“RDA showing is a brilliant idea,” she said. “Riders can do what they can do in their individual show and so long as your horse is comfortable, well-schooled and good in company, you can’t put a foot wrong. It’s a stepping stone into the showing world for RDA riders.”
Sixth place went to Gabby Blake and The Rose of Derry, who won the 30-starter qualifier at Hartpury. Gabby, 24, who lives in Whatton, Notts, but is from Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, is a member of the South Notts RDA group. Although she has a rare and painful condition, she has been riding for most of her life.
“My main problem is pain, but when I’m riding I don’t feel it,” she said. “I don’t get sore and it’s a lovely feeling.”
Seventh went to one of the audience’s favourites, Middlesbrough-based Brooke-Leigh Johnson, 10, with the charming 15-year-old grey pony Wrentnall Snowman. Brooke-Leigh, who suffers from hearing loss and speech problems, has been a member of the Unicorn Centre for the past five years and is a keen competitor at all the shows held there.
Lee Lawrence, from Cotswold RDA group in Cheltenham, took eighth with the loaned Hanoverian mare Half a Whisper. Lee, 31, has a rare genetic disorder that severely compromises his quality of life and affects his sight and hearing.
Judge Jane Holderness-Roddam said: “The finalists were all of a very high standard and had put in a lot of effort. I believe this competition has a great future and adheres to the RDA mantra of ‘can do’ — it’s a perfect opportunity for disabled riders to prove what they’re capable of. I can see it growing in popularity across the country.”
SEIB marketing manager Nicolina MacKenzie said: “As a company, SEIB couldn’t be more delighted with the way this first year has gone. It has been a tremendous success and the positive way in which the audience responded at this final was enough to gladden anyone’s heart.
“We are so much looking forward to building on this, fine-tuning it and seeing it become a whole new goal for disabled riders across the country.
“SEIB always tries to put something back into the markets within which it operates and launching showing for RDA riders is one of those initiatives.”