For most people with a disability that affects balance, body strength and coordination, vaulting would not be the obvious go-to sport for them. But for Lizzie Bennett, who suffers with Ehlers Danlos, a syndrome that affects almost every aspect of her body’s functioning, it was a childhood dream come true, an opportunity she was determined not to miss out on and one that has actually helped her walking, not to mention getting her to the para-vaulting section of the British Vaulting Championships!
Lizzie describes herself as a wheelchair racer with a serious horse problem! “When I was 6 years old I learned to ride, and read about vaulting in a book – and being into gymnastics at the time, I decided there and then it was something I wanted to do,” says Lizzie. Lizzie had to give up riding when she broke her back at the age of 13, but thanks to Riding for the Disabled, she was able to get back in the saddle. The chance to have a go at vaulting was an opportunity she was keen to try and after starting on a simulator horse (actually designed for dressage) she soon moved onto the real thing. Just 10 days after her first attempts, she found herself in a vaulting competition on Boris her trusty RDA steed.
“I didn’t really have a routine worked out and just threw myself in at the deep end that time. I learnt a lot from that first competition and have been competing as often as I can since,” says Lizzie.
” I decided to have a go at the vaulting competition in the RDA National Championships at Hartpury, last year. I also qualified in the regional show to compete in dressage and jumping at the Championships so it was a busy weekend. I had to do my vaulting routine on the barrel that year because there weren’t any horses to take (Boris wasn’t connected with my RDA group) but I won anyway! I also won the Senior section of my dressage class (Grade V Walk and Trot) and came second in Level 2 showjumping. This year I’ve qualified in dressage and jumping again (Level 3 jumping this time – higher jumps). I qualified in two dressage tests but have picked the slightly easier one because I’ll be riding side saddle and don’t know if I can canter on both reins yet – I’ve only had two 30 minute lessons so far! I’m also doing vaulting (on a real horse this time!) and showing (which I’ve never done before so that might be a disaster!).
After the RDA Champs, which were in July last year, I started working towards the English Vaulting Championships. That was in September and I won that, so just had to tidy up any loose ends in my routine before the British Champs, which was in October, and which I won again. So this year I’m looking to defend all three vaulting titles! At Hartpury I will be vaulting on Boris again which is a bit of a nice surprise – he left Cambridge in April to retire to a proper RDA home but they will be taking him to the Championships for their vaulters and have kindly said I can vault on him too. I’ll hopefully do some good stuff in dressage and jumping again – I’ve recently won the RDA Dressage Anywhere National Championships so that’s a good bit of encouragement going in to Hartpury!”
We wish her the very best of luck!
You can follow Lizzie’s story on her blog My Bendy Life
If you would like to have a go at vaulting, visit the British Equestrian Vaulting website for info!