Bad weather fails to dampen spirits at the RDA National Championships

Representatives from Mount Pleasant RDA Group. Photo credit RDA

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) National Championships provided an exceptional three days of competition, with over 380 participants representing 85 RDA Groups from across the UK. Events included dressage, vaulting, endurance, showing, show jumping and carriage driving as well as RDA’s Countryside Challenge and many more non-ridden competitions.

The annual Championships is the largest equestrian disability event in the world and was once again held at Hartpury University and College on July 14th – 16th. Despite facing high winds and thunder and lightning that briefly delayed Saturday afternoon’s competition, participants and supporters displayed remarkable patience, determination and good humour, and all classes were completed.

There are numerous success stories from the Championships, demonstrating the incredible impact that RDA Groups help to achieve for their participants.

Fletcher Duke, from Muirfield Riding Therapy RDA Group delighted his many fans by qualifying for the British Para Dressage Summer Championships, making the long trip from North Berwick a worthwhile one for Fletcher, his teammates and the many supporters who made the journey possible.

Riding at the championships for the first time was Vivienne Milburn from Helen Atkin RDA in Buxton, Derbyshire. Vivienne rode as a teenager and more recently returned to riding with RDA after many years battling multiple sclerosis. Vivienne said:


When I ride I am on cloud nine and smiling for the rest of the day. The sense of freedom is amazing – it feels magical”

Danielle in a green shirt on a bay horse with Barbara Knapp  stood next to her - Photo credit Nigel Kirby
Danielle and Barbara Knapp – Photo credit Nigel Kirby

Also riding at the championships for the first time was Danielle Knapp, 17, from Scropton RDA in Derbyshire. Danielle wasn’t placed, but her success was being a part of the event itself:

I might not have come in the top 6 but I had the best time. I can’t wait to do it all again. As long as I can ride I am happy – I just love it”.

Georgia Halliwell-Paget from the Cavalier Centre has had a challenging year with operations on her hip and knee. It was not certain that she would have recovered sufficiently in time to compete in the Championships, but her hard work paid off with a 4th in the dressage. Like many other competitors, the Championships are about more than winning. Georgia explains what riding her horse, Heston means to her:

For me, RDA is freedom. It’s a place where I can do something that I love, a sport that’s right for me. So Heston was a tinker, but he is the tinker that I love to ride. My bond with Heston is a bond I don’t think I’ve ever had before”.

The winner of the Pat Straughan Medal of Commendation 2023 was 14-year-old Khianna Lucas-Young from Bradbourne RDA. Diagnosed with Leukaemia in 2016 and with Neuromyelitis in 2020, Khianna became completely blind and paralysed from the neck down. Medical opinion was that she would never walk again but Khianna began riding in 2021 and completed her first dressage test in 2022.

Although Khianna no longer uses a wheelchair, her mobility is compromised, and her eyesight has not returned. Yet despite these challenges, Khianna qualified for the National Championships. Sarah Fenn, Chair of Trustees at Bradbourne RDA nominated Khianna for the award:

What is particularly amazing about Khianna is her positive attitude, her love and appreciation for her pony and the way she inspires every volunteer who has come into contact with her” says Sarah “She is courageous and full of laughter and humour but committed to improve and to push herself to achieve. Khianna qualified at our regional dressage qualifier and more than one of us were in tears”.

Chloe (purple shirt) from Scropton RDA and Julie from Cleethorpes and Grimsby RDA Group. Photo credit RDA
Chloe (purple shirt) from Scropton RDA and Julie from Cleethorpes and Grimsby RDA Group. Photo credit RDA

Competing at the championships wouldn’t be possible without the support of hundreds of volunteers. Volunteering at this year’s Championships was extra special for Matt Dalley as he was presented with an award for RDA (UK) Volunteer of the Year. Matt, who is an RDA rider and volunteer, works hard as an RDA ambassador in his role as Publicity Officer for the North Midlands RDA region.

I am incredibly honoured to have received this award presented by Sophie Christiansen CBE” says Matt:

I love being a volunteer for RDA. It’s amazing how much riding can help people and it’s great to be able to publicise our riders’ achievements and successes”.

The Championships could not take place without the amazing sponsors, many of whom have been supporting RDA for years. For example, players of People’s Postcode Lottery have supported RDA for 10 years and contributed over £5M to date.

Preparations are already underway for the next big event in the RDA competition calendar to be held in November. The RDA Virtual Championships open up opportunities for even more people to take part and will be streamed live and watched by thousands of viewers across the globe.

Feature image: Representatives from Mount Pleasant RDA Group. Photo credit RDA

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