The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has launched a special campaign to celebrate their 50th year in operation. The 50 Faces Campaign will revisit people who have helped shape and make the charity what it is today.
Included in the exciting stories to be told is Eight-time Paralympic gold medallist dressage rider, Sophie Christiansen. Here, Sophie explains how without the RDA she wouldn’t be where she is today, and how they have helped with her ambitions for continued success and desire to help other riders achieve their dreams.
Sophie Christiansen would never have even sat on a horse if it wasn’t for the RDA. Sophie was born two months prematurely with cerebral palsy and began riding at the age of six. Her riding career was prompted by the recommendation of a physiotherapist, who believed in the benefit of horse riding for children with disabilities.
Instead of doing PE at school, Sophie attended her local RDA Centre, South Bucks RDA. Said Sophie:
I guess riding gave me a sense of freedom, I couldn’t walk or run like the other children but when I sat on a horse I felt free and it kind of escalated from there.
I was always quite sporty and used to love playing football and hockey but I was rubbish at them and kept falling over. Dressage was the only sport I was good at, so I was determined to see how far I could go.”
At 16, Sophie was the youngest athlete for Great Britain to compete at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, returning home with an unexpected bronze medal, having originally just traveled to the Games to gain valuable experience.
Now a Paralympic veteran, Sophie says her most memorable moment came at London 2012 when the 10,000 capacity crowd erupted at the end of her Freestyle test.
I had specifically put the test together to be very British and I was coming out of the arena and the audience had been told not to clap because of health and safety. I could feel the anticipation in the air and my brother and two cousins whipped off their shirts to reveal ‘We love Sophie’ written on their chests. As they shouted ‘We love you, Sophie’, the whole crowd joined in.
“There are no words to describe that feeling – I still get a bit emotional thinking about it now!”
Sophie acknowledges that without riding and RDA she wouldn’t be the person she is today as it has given her the confidence to accept her disability.
I work as a software developer for investment bank, Goldman Sachs, and so many of the skills I use in day-to-day life are testament to how RDA and riding has helped me develop. Without getting on a horse I wouldn’t be where I am today. RDA has a lot to answer for!”
Looking to the future, Sophie aims to compete at Tokyo 2020 but is also working towards leaving a legacy to help other riders make the transition from RDA therapy riding to Para-Dressage.
To achieve this Sophie has launched a membership club to raise money and get people closer to the action of Para-Dressage as well as share her journey with members from RDA to winning gold.
For more information about Sophie’s membership club visit www.sophiechristiansen.co.uk/goldclub
You can read Sophie’s story, and meet the other 49 Faces of RDA at www.rda.org.uk