Saturday 6th of April 2024

Why Horses are Britta Francis’ therapy

Britta Francis has been riding horses for most of her life and for her, horse riding is her passion. Despite having a complex medical condition, Britta keeps on coming back into the saddle and that is partly thanks to the team at Urchinwood Manor Equestrian Centre.

37-year-old Britta, was diagnosed with Kyphosis and Lordosis, meaning her spine grew in an ‘S’ shape, and Scoliosis, meaning her spine twists from left to right. Following major spinal surgery in December 2012 she had to learn how to stand, walk, and go up and down stairs again, putting her riding ambitions on hold.

Britta also has other health issues, including CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), which she was diagnosed with while at university 15 years ago, and depression. This make everyday tasks even more difficult, and also means the social aspect of enjoying spending time with horses is vital to her well-being.

She started riding from an early age and a lot of her riding experience has been supported by the Riding for the Disabled Association and the Accessibility Mark scheme.

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) participation programme launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.

Britta has ridden with the RDA for many years and was even selected for the RDA Regional and National Championships with her beloved horse, Harry and their achievements gave Britta the most incredible boost on days when her pain became unbearable.

Sadly, Harry had to be put to sleep three months prior to Britta facing the first of four spinal operations, and the loss of Harry meant Britta lost contact with many of the friends she had made through riding.

Although she passed her finals at University, with a BSc in Speech and Language Therapy, Britta says at the point of diagnosis she lost everything she had worked for, including her career, her driving, and her independence, as she had to move back home once again. She also lost her social life and part-time job with horses, together with many of her friends.

After a long, two year recovery period following surgery, Britta was finally able to get on to an equine simulator, available at Avon RDA. This helped to build up Britta’s muscles and strength to enable her to get back in the saddle and ride a ‘real’ horse again at Urchinwood Manor Equestrian Centre, under the watchful and experienced eye of centre owner and instructor, Sally Hall.

Britta is now able to ride for about half an hour, once a fortnight, in which she enjoys dressage.

“This gives me a huge sense of achievement and enjoyment. I incorporate parts of my physiotherapy in this, such as trying to hold my head up and look forward, sit correctly, increase my muscle strength and flexibility, as well as helping to relax tense muscles in spasms, through exercises on the horse.

“It also helps improve my cognitive functioning and, aside from the physical aspects, it also gives me the chance to socialise with like-minded people, and importantly to make new friends,” said Britta.

Britta’s amazing strength of character keeps her focused on the future, where she continues to aim high and she dreams of owning her own horse and competing once again. She hopes to be able to continue with riding through the wonderful staff at Urchinwood Manor Equestrian Centre based in Bristol.

The centre’s Accessibility Mark accreditation has undoubtedly given staff confidence to provide an excellent service, much needed by Britta.

Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial.

There are currently 38 Accessibility Mark approved centres across the country.

To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit

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