Disabled rider from Saffron Walden wins three championship titles for horseback vaulting

PUBLISHED: 10:47 28 July 2017

Lizzie Bennett in action during a horse vaulting routine. Picture: CLIVE HOLGATE

Lizzie Bennett in action during a horse vaulting routine. Picture: CLIVE HOLGATE

Archant

Think of taking on the gymnastic challenge of vaulting – and then add in doing it on horseback and being disabled.

Lizzie Bennett in action during a horse vaulting routine. Picture: MICHAEL MARTINLizzie Bennett in action during a horse vaulting routine. Picture: MICHAEL MARTIN

Lizzie Bennett, 27, from Saffron Walden, admits it takes courage but this acclaimed champion rider suffers from a genetic disorder that affects balance, body strength and coordination.

She also broke her back when she was 13, landing badly when vaulting in a gymnastics session.

A keen rider as a child, she only took it up again three years ago with Cambridgeshire College’s Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) at Milton.

The part-time learning mentor at St Mary’s Primary has an ever-lengthening list of achievements, but daily life is a struggle.

Lizzie Bennett with her prizes from horse vaulting. Picture: KATHRYN BENNETTLizzie Bennett with her prizes from horse vaulting. Picture: KATHRYN BENNETT

She said: “It’s very tiring and painful. I can’t walk far and I fall over a lot. I take a lot of medication and need a lot of rest. I barely go out if it’s not work, hospital or training.”

Lizzie suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It affects collagen and her main symptoms are rheumatoid and neurological. Her joints are hypermobile and dislocate. Muscles are always in spasm holding joints together.

Lizzie, who has two older married brothers, Tom and Edward, lives with her mother Kathryn. Her father Dominic died in 2011. She completed a half-marathon race in a wheelchair last year to raise money in his memory.

Lizzie began learning to vault on a horse by using a horse simulator and three years later has added even more riding honours.

She has just won three championship titles and came second over four disciplines at the RDA’s National Championships in Gloucestershire.

She was declared overall champion in vaulting for the second successive year, in dressage and in show jumping. She came second in showing.

“It’s hard to describe how I ride. My left shoulder is very bad and I have limited strength or control of my left hand, so I strap that arm up and ride with just the right hand. I also have special stirrups which stop my feet sliding through since I can’t feel or control them properly.

“My mum is better than she used to be but still sometimes gets a bit nervous watching me.”

Lizzie believes if you decide on something, it will happen, “instead of wondering whether or not you can achieve it”.

She trains at Cambridge Vaulting Club and rides RDA owned horses.

“Vaulting is extremely physically demanding as it requires huge strength, flexibility and fitness. A one minute routine leaves you breathless.

“It’s also a mental workout and you need a lot of courage. It’s been brilliant for me and I’ve definitely seen physical improvements even though my illness is degenerative.”

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