Gorebridge disabled horse rider competes at first national championship after falling back in love with the sport

Para-dressage Gorebridge rider Sheila Barnett was in action at the recent national RDA championships down south, after previously giving up horse riding.

By Kevin Quinn
Thursday, 21st July 2022, 2:58 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st July 2022, 2:58 pm

The 51-year-old, who suffers from the hereditary neurological condition, dopa responsive dystonia, took sixth place in her category at the event in Gloustershire.

Sheila was delighted to grab the last ‘rosette’ place in the walk and trot event, under a year after getting back in the saddle following seven years without horse riding. She said: “I had missed it and I just missed being around the horses. I love being back and I’m not only riding again but training to be a coach also. For me it’s all about encouraging people with disabilities to take part in the sport.

"It was nerve-wracking on the day. I decided not to watch the other competitors but I would check-in on the scoreboard after I competed.

"I was third and then sixth with one rider to go, and they got the same score as the fifth place rider so I thought that would be me bumped down to seventh and with no rosette. But I then got a call to go to the ceremony as I was given sixth and the other two joint fifth as their scores couldn’t be separated. It’s the biggest competition for disabled riders in the world, so it’s a big deal. I’m over the moon.”

Sheila’s condition tightens her muscles and gives her a lack of balance, which has left her needing crutches and can cause problems being on a horse.

"I’m fine sitting but obviously the more movement there is I worry about coming off,” she said.

"Horses can feel when you are anxious. I worry they will get spooked. So I don’t like riding on a windy day.

Sheila Barnett pictured in action at the RDA Championships, on a horse she hadn't met until the night before the competition. Photos by Michael Martin.

"But it was a fantastic weekend at the RDA, everybody down there is so nice.

"I am hoping that there will also be the opportunity to do para dressage more in the future.”

Sheila also had to ride on a horse she had never previously ridden on after the recent heatwave led to organisers warning against horses traveling to the event.

She said: "I went down there not knowing if I would even have a horse to ride. It was a bit of a waiting game, I was on tenterhooks, but on the Friday night I got to try a horse for 10/ 15 minutes before competing on the Saturday morning and being placed. So it all worked out in the end!”

Sheila Barnett from Gorebridge, pictured with her rosettes at the RDA Championships.