I first met Flis and her horse Seran at the RDA Championships in July 2019 and had the pleasure of presenting her with her Grade 1 Winners rosette and trophy. I had seen her test and really liked what I saw, so it was no surprise to me that she had won the class.
When I had the idea to launch the Para Equestrian Foundation it was to help riders like Flis who don’t have a huge horsey network or horsey family and she won’t mind me saying, have limited funds but have the potential to do so much given the opportunity.
Once the foundation launched Flis was the first rider to enter the program and I started to work with her remotely as it appeared things were not going well with Seran. She had been off work for the winter having suffered an injury and the road back into work had been a rocky one. Over the weeks Flis and Gill her lovely Mum sent me videos of Flis in training and it became apparent that despite every good intention some intervention was required. So, although we hadn’t started our fundraising yet I made Flis the offer of having Seran with me and Holly for 2 weeks to see if we could unpick the problems and get her back on track. She arrived and settled really well, loved hacking on the buckle with Holly and very quickly started to knuckle down to some great work in the arena.
It is all very well an able bodied rider as skilled as Holly being able to ride her but we needed to know what she would be like for a Para rider, so on I got. She is very bouncy in the walk and it took me some time to get used to the movement but I couldn’t get her into any kind of frame. So I fed back to Holly what I was feeling and she worked with her over the next week to establish a better frame, something I could then hopefully achieve without the use of my legs. Flis is a Grade 1 like me so I can relate to how Seran needs to be set-up for her as it is the same for me.
The next week I sat on again and although it was far, far better it was a little hit and miss on the corners. Holly was genuinely disappointed, and it is this that makes her a fabulous coach/trainer, she really feels it if her riders don’t get the results she feels they should as a result of her training. So we spoke to Flis and Gill and said come and visit and see what we are doing but we want to keep her for another 2 weeks. The visit was an emotional one and as most Para riders will understand our horses give us so much freedom and something very special to focus on when days are difficult, so not having them close by is hard.
Flis watched Holly warm Seran up and then watched me ride her and could see a huge difference in the horse she had brought to us, so chilled and happy in the arena and taking a contact with me, albeit not a consistent one just yet.
Over the next 2 weeks we did the same thing with Holly changing things slightly from my
feedback and then the final day came for me to ride her and as soon as we entered the arena and I took up my loop reins she dropped into a lovely contact and maintained it throughout the session, her huge walk and overtrack was back and she was really forward off of my voice. We had cracked it. Now to get Flis on.
So, she could get as much out of the time with us as possible Flis and Gill came up for 3 days and although slightly nervous (riding outside for the first time) and tight in her muscles as she hadn’t ridden in a month Flis did a super job and when she finished and raised her arm up in the air with a huge smile on her face we nearly all crumbled. This is why we do this, to see the bravest of riders who feel a bit defeated and horses that have lost their way reunite and be better than before is a very special thing. Each day there was more improvement and they both grew in confidence which was delightful to see and Gill brought cakes and treats for everyone – a perfect week.
Seran went home yesterday and we will keep in touch remotely to see how they progress – we all miss them already, it’s been great to show the strength of the foundation and has given us a glimpse of how fantastic this will be for our riders, so our fundraising begins in earnest to enable us to help more Para athletes and their beloved horses.
It takes courage and resilience for a Para athlete to perform at an elite level and behind every elite athlete is an elite team who ensure we are not only safe but enable us to do the thing we love the most. The Para Equestrian Foundation Team needs your support to help more athletes like Flis https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/paraequestrianfoundation