Get involved in disability sport

If you live in the UK and you're interested in finding out about all kinds of sport that are open to you, start out by visiting the website of the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) here. This page gives some ideas of how to get into my main sports, based on my own experience.

Equestrian sport

If you're in the UK, the best place to start is the RDA's website. On the website, you can click on 'Find a Group' (or click here) to search by postcode or group name, if you know of a specific group.
Once I've found a group, what do I do?
Although all RDA groups are governed by RDA National, they're all also autonomous in most of their organisation. This means that you should contact individual groups to enquire about membership (either for yourself or somebody you care for). The website will provide contact details for each group.

Things to be aware of: some groups will be just for children or just for adults. Some will be purely riding groups or purely carriage driving. Some will be enormous groups with multiple sessions running each week; others (like my group) will be very much smaller with only one session a week. Most will ask you to pay a small fee to attend sessions, but the amount can vary quite widely from group to group. Some will have a waiting list and some may have an upper rider weight limit.
Admin to expect at your first session.
You should expect to fill in some forms detailing the nature of your disability. If you are a carer then you can fill these forms in yourself if that is more appropriate. You will probably also be asked about your weight - this is so that you will be paired with an appropriate horse or pony, for the sake of their own welfare. If the group is unable to provide an appropriate horse for your weight, they should be able to advise of another group that would be able to help.

The forms will ask how your disability affects you in a variety of ways. For example, they need to know of any communication difficulties you may have, or of medication or emergency procedures they may need to administer/carry out in the event of illness or an accident. They will also ask for the name and contact details of your doctor (usually GP) and will ask if you have ridden before, and to what level (if applicable). They may also carry out a few short tests to see how well you will cope with being on a horse - for example, they will look at how easily you can sit upright unsupported, your ability to turn your body from the hips, and how easily you can move your legs.

You can find more information - including forms to download - here.

Will I definitely be allowed to ride?
The primary purpose of all of the forms and checks is to ensure that everybody is kept safe. It may be that the RDA's opinion is that you would not be safe to ride with them, or that you may only be safe to ride with them at certain times when your condition is well-controlled. As mentioned above, you may also be turned away by an individual group if your size (height and weight) is inappropriate for the group's horses, or if you are not the right age for the group (in this case, you should be able to find another group since all ages are catered for by the RDA nationally). You may be asked to join a waiting list.

In a few cases, you may find that the RDA group you have approached is unable to offer you a place because they do not feel that your level of impairment is sufficiently severe to warrant offering a place within the RDA system. This may be very difficult to understand or appreciate, but the decision is made sensitively and with the aim of providing for the rider's best interests - for example, it may be suggested that you join a group at a regular riding school which would give you a more appropriate environment in which to learn.

RDA groups are not obliged to accept any rider, but they will always do their best to accommodate people or to find alternatives for those who cannot easily be placed with a particular group.
It'll be my first time on a horse - what should I expect?
Wear comfy clothes and arrive in plenty of time so that you can find a hat and a pair of boots that fit (check with the group to ensure that they can provide these things first; you will not be allowed to ride without a helmet and appropriate footwear). To start with, you will meet your horse or pony, then you will be helped to mount. You will be made comfy in the saddle and will be shown how to hold the reins as best you can. You will have a leader to control the horse and side walkers if necessary to help you keep your balance. You will get used to starting and stopping (halt and walk) and will learn the basics of steering. At all times, you will have people around to help you control the horse and to help you feel safe and happy. If at any time you don't feel safe or you're worried about something, you can communicate this with your helpers however is most comfortable for you (this is something to agree on beforehand).

Once you're a bit more confident, you can have a go at trotting and riding more independently. After that, it's up to you how much you do!
What should I wear?
Most places will let you hire some equipment when you start out. For more information on what you should provide to wear and what kit you may like to buy in the future, have a look at this post.

I don't live in the UK...
Elsewhere, you could try looking on the website of the 'Federation of Horses in Education and Therapy International'. They have a list of organisations in a variety of different countries who you can contact to find somewhere to give riding a go - you can find that list here. Searching through your country's Paralympic Organisation might also help.

Wheelchair racing

Buying your own race chair is not an efficient way to start this sport - you're much better off having a go before committing to a major purchase. To find an athletics club with wheelchair racers, you're best off looking for one that has a 'track and field' component. Many clubs cater purely for road runners and whilst these are fine for wheelies with a bit more experience they are unlikely to have the facilities to help you as a beginner. 

To find a club, visit your country's athletics federation website and search for any that offer wheelchair racing (here is England Athletics' page - note that 'Disability Athletics' includes amputees, people with visual impairment, and ambulant runners). English people can also have help from the EFDS (see the top of this page) in finding a club. In England and the rest of the UK, there is also useful information on the BBC website here.
Tinsel for chair optional.
Once you find a club, find out if they can lend you a chair and a pair of gloves (racing gloves are about £125 a pair!). Apart from that, all you need to take is a helmet (a normal bike helmet is fine) and some appropriate kit. Race chairs should be as tight a fit as possible, so whilst you're still borrowing a chair it's sensible to have extra bottom layers to pad it out if need be - or thin leggings to help you slide in better if it's already tight! A long-sleeved top, or at least one with sleeves to the elbow, is generally a good idea since when you start out you will probably get very bruised forearms. Other than that, you want to be as loose as possible around the shoulders, so avoid wearing too much on your top half.

Para-rowing

The best way to find out about this is to read one of my earliest blog posts, which can be found here.

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