My love for horses began as a toddler when I sat on a little black Shetland called William. At the age of 8, I started having lessons with Mary-Jane at a local riding school near Elgin in Scotland. I was thrilled to bits when I got my first pony for my ninth birthday. Nevada is a bay Welsh cross 13.2hh, who I still have. As with most pony-mad children, I did all the usual pony club activities with Nevada and it was through her that I learned all the basics about looking after a pony.
At times it has been very difficult to keep riding but I have a very positive attitude and determined character and I continued to ride whatever was happening in my life. A great friend once gave me valuable advice and said to me "Tash, Reach For The Stars". So that’s what I am doing and hope one day that this leads to a place on the Paralympic Dressage Team (hopefully, Rio). In my mid-teens I was regularly flying down from Inverness to Gatwick to continue training and competing. I am now in the second year of university studying Human Geography and Spanish, enjoying the challenges of combining my horse career with continuing my education.
Miss Ellie, my next pony was an ex-BSJA jumping pony and I loved being able to jump and take part in cross country events. Whilst I had her, I was selected to represent my school, Aberlour House, in the Scottish Schools Championship and was delighted to come first in the Under 12 Team and Individual Championships. I think this was my the start of my love for dressage and I was keen to participate in Highland BYRDS activities, quickly moving on to ride my mum’s pony Chad, who taught me so much about riding. He doesn't owe me anything and loves his current life as a retired pony sharing a field with Nevada. Shona MacKenzie co-ordinated the BYRDS group and with her encouragement and support I was profiled for Para Dressage and introduced to Clive Milkins.
Initially, I was profiled as a Grade 3 rider. Since birth, I have had a complicated medical history and have VACTERL syndrome, which is a little know syndrome that affects many parts of the body. In terms of classification, which focuses on range, power and co-ordination, it was the limitations of my spine and joints, which affected my riding activities. The bony structures around my joints have not developed sufficiently, so I have lots of problems with my joints and Spina Bifida at the top of my back, which severely restricts my movement.
Clive and the team at South Bucks RDA were my introduction to the world of Para Dressage. With their wealth of knowledge and experience I was able to train on several different school-masters and started to use looped reins which have been really beneficial as my hands are not very strong and find it difficult to grip reins. In my first year, I rode Tribal Indian (Indie) and was very successful. I competed in the RDA Championships coming first with 79.8% and a Junior International where I got the highest Grade 3 score in the two main tests. I am very grateful for all the support and encouragement they gave me in progressing to the British Equestrian Federation’s World Class Programme, which is funded by the National Lottery.
I was initially selected for the Start section of the Development Programme 2010-2012 and was thrilled to be re-selected to stay on the programme in 2012-2014. However, when I reached the age of 18, it was decided that I needed to be internationally re-classified. My condition had significantly deteriorated and I now am a Grade 1b rider, where the tests are in a 20 x 40 arena and the movements are walk and trot only.
In April 2012 I got Undercover 7 (Danny) who, in his previous life, was an eventer. It was great to have my Para dressage horse nearby and be able to ride more regularly. In our first competition season, we did extremely well and got some fabulous scores at Restricted level. We were a key partnership in the Northern Region team at the Home International, finishing first. The next major competition was the three day Young Rider international at Bishop Burton. We won the Young Rider classes for Grade 1b and I was delighted to be the overall winner of the Young Riders too. It felt fabulous when I was also awarded a gorgeous sash for the Leading UK Rider, with the highest score for a British Rider across all levels.
Last year I moved up to Open level with Danny and had to face competition with some of the world’s best Para riders. A daunting proposition! Competing at the Nationals last year was a valuable experience and I am so pleased that I could do it on Danny who has given me so much confidence.
In April I moved with my mum to Langholme Barn and am now very fortunate to have my horses at home with me. I love having them so close, having the freedom to organise my riding and take responsibility for their care and management. I now feel that I am ready for the next stage in my Para Dressage career and plan to start campaigning my two young horses, Highlander and Sweet Caledonia who are also from Scotland.