Riding for the Disabled Association are delighted to announce that Elizabeth Bennett has been selected as their new National Vaulting Lead.
Lizzie has been involved in RDA for many years, and she is a strong advocate for vaulting both inside and outside of RDA. She has had her own competition success at RDA National Championships as well as British Equestrian Vaulting (BEV). In addition to her own competition success, Lizzie has supported others through her coaching, enabling them to also have competition success. Lizzie is a BEV Level 2 Coach as well as an RDA Vaulting coach.
Lizzie has told us a bit more about herself and her ambitions in this new role:
“In September 2014 I started riding with the RDA, thinking that I would never be able to get back to the sport I had loved as a child. I’d had ten long years since breaking my back and just sitting on a horse was really difficult, but the team at Cambridgeshire College RDA built me back up very gradually until I was able to canter and jump again. When I had the opportunity to try vaulting, I was a full-time wheelchair user and had no idea what I’d be able to manage. Again, the patience and enthusiasm of coaches at RDA and Cambridge Vaulting Club meant that I was fully involved in competing and doing displays from my earliest days in the sport.
“Fast forward a few years and my entire life has been transformed thanks to vaulting within RDA and British Equestrian Vaulting (BEV). Its taken a long time and a lot of hard work, but I have become so much happier and healthier (despite various injuries!) as a result. I have even been able to start work as a groom at an English Heritage property: caring for the horses, riding in displays (including side saddle), sharing the history of the stables with visitors, learning carriage driving, and doing a fair bit of dressing up!
“Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to own Puro, a Dutch Warmblood who I’ve worked with for years as coach, lunger and vaulter. He’s not perfect by any means (just like his owner!) but I trust him in a way I have never trusted any other horse. It’s been a delight to share him with other RDA and Para-vaulters, and to see vaulters from across the country competing on him at Hartpury was a very proud moment. He’s a very good boy!
“Coaching within RDA and BEV has allowed me to see in others what I myself have experienced over and over again: not dreams coming true, but rather things that you would never have even thought or known to have dreamed of or wished for. I have stopped limiting myself by what I think I can do, and instead I just keep taking little steps to see where they end up.
“I hope to do much the same thing in the role as RDA Vaulting Lead. Vaulting is such an exciting and inspiring activity, and it is accessible to disabled people in a way that riding isn’t. In vaulting, you can have another person on the horse with you for support. You don’t have to sit astride if that’s uncomfortable, and you don’t have to control the horse either. Vaulting is also a great way to learn about horses and to learn to appreciate them: every single thing we do as vaulters is analysed first and foremost in terms of the harmony with the horse. The relationship you can build with a vaulting horse is quite incredible too – in the absence of being able to ‘give’ aids, you switch purely into ‘receive’ mode, and become far more receptive to the horse as a result.
“The priorities for RDA Vaulting as we head into 2023 and beyond lie primarily within expanding it. We want more participants, which will mean more coaches, more barrel horses and, in time, more real horses too! Barrel vaulting is a highly competitive activity within RDA, and one which can bring many benefits to participants despite the lack of a ‘real’ horse. It’s also a no-brainer for RDA Groups – barrels don’t tend to eat much or need the farrier, after all. Vaulting in general is cost-effective even when there is a horse involved, as a group of vaulters will all work with just one horse.
“In order to create these opportunities for vaulters, we obviously need to train up more coaches. There are lots of misconceptions about vaulting – that it isn’t appropriate for those with physical disabilities, that it’s too specialist for coaches to learn, or that it’s cruel to the horse, for example. We need frank discussion of these things so that people can see vaulting for what it really is and what it can offer.
“In the short term, we would like to encourage groups to invest in a barrel (or two!) and to put coaches forwards to train in the basics of barrel vaulting, so it can be offered to participants and start to cut down those waiting lists. I am also hoping to introduce more regulations for horse welfare, many of which are already implicitly in place but could be more overtly stated. Longer term, we need to train more horses and develop coaches further. Although training has to be done by an experienced team, an RDA Vaulting horse needn’t be a special or expensive purchase for a group: all kinds of horses can take to it.
“My hope is that we can increase participation in vaulting and also educate people about how it all works and how it can benefit participants, groups and our horses. I have many more plans for beyond that but I think that would be a good start!“