Tag Archives: horse

My job at Goldman Sachs is a holiday compared to the pressure of the Paralympics

Five-time gold medallist Sophie Christiansen is competing in her fourth Paralympic Games this summer. The equestrian won three of her gold medals at London 2012 with her horse Janeiro 6 so expectations for Rio are high.

In this guest blog post, Sophie, who has cerebral palsy, talks about witnessing first-hand the growth of the Paralympic movement and how she handles the pressures of competing at a top level.

My family isn’t at all horsey. I don’t think I would ever have ridden if I hadn’t been disabled.

I started riding when I was six with the Riding for the Disabled Association to improve my coordination. When I was about 13 I found out about dressage and I was hooked. When I’m on a horse I can forget about my disability and I can compete on a level playing field with other disabled people.

The riding school where I learnt dressage, South Bucks RDA, had a history of training Paralympians so they were looking out for talent from the start.

Being selected for Athens in 2004, aged 16, was incredible. I was ParalympicGB’s youngest athlete. I learnt such a lot from that first experience of the games.

To be selected for my fourth Paralympics this year is a huge honour. I’m only 28, but I’m seen as a Paralympic veteran!

Changing attitudes

The Games have changed so much since my first time in Athens. The standard is so high and there is a lot more interest.

We’d be used to competing in front of 200 people – that would be a big crowd – but then in London there were 10,000.

In Beijing there was a lot of interest from the public and we attracted a really big audience. But there was so little media coverage. I won my first Paralympic gold medals and it hardly got a mention.

I think attitudes have changed. There was a lot expected of London in terms of changing perceptions and I think it did achieve it, to a certain extent. It showed disabled people achieving some amazing things and I think people who aren’t disabled were inspired by what we could do.

But I know a lot of disabled people felt it did not represent them and I totally understand that. It’s why I make it my mission to talk about my life outside sport, about the barriers that still exist in society, whenever possible.

Road to Rio

I’m really looking forward to Rio and I hope people get behind us. It will be a shame if they don’t manage to sell tickets and the stadiums are empty. But as an athlete, you just have to get on with it and focus on your event.

It would be great to see more coverage of disability sports. At the moment there’s the Paralympics every four years and then nothing in between. I think it would help disabled athletes get more sponsorship and make disabled people more visible. If people can’t see disabled people, they just don’t exist.

Relaxing with maths

I work as an analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs in the technology department. This might sounds funny, but I see my job as like a holiday from the highly pressurised atmosphere of Paralympic sport.

I’ve always had a logical brain and I love maths.

They’ve created the perfect role for me, which fits around my impairment and my sport commitments. I know it’ll be hard for me to progress in my career while I’m doing dressage, which is frustrating. But everyone I work with is so understanding. It would help support a lot more disabled people into work if more employers were as creative and flexible with roles as mine.

When training in a Paralympic year, it’s about knowing how to balance training with fatigue. It’s difficult because I’m a workaholic, I’m always working. That’s my biggest challenge, knowing when to stop.

Pushing myself outside my comfort zone is how I’ve always lived my life. I never thought I’d have a job in London. I enjoy the independence it gives me and it enables me to pursue dressage.

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We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about our Parlympics survey

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

The benefits of pets for disabled people

Animals can be wonderful companions for disabled children and adults, but they can do so much more too, helping with physical and emotional development.

Here are some of your stories and tips about the benefits animals can offer – plus a look at some of the fantastic organisations out there providing a little animal magic.

Pets As Therapy

Pets As TherapyA man and woman stoking a cat are a fantastic organisation and a great alternative if you are unable to have your own pet. They will visit (all over the UK) with cats or dogs, and the pleasure they give is immeasurable. I highly recommend them.

Not just a family pet

Freya has Aspergers and ever since she was little she has liked cats. Like an autism service dog, our cat is not just a family pet, but an important learning tool, sensory guide and companion. We’ve watched Freya grow and develop by gaining confidence with a cat at her side.

Fishy entertainment

Fish tanks can be really calming for people with sensory processing disorders. My daughter has a five gallon tank in her bedroom, that not only calms her down, but helps her sleep better at night by providing white noise.

Autism Assistance Dogs

Dogs for the Disabled provides specially-trained autism assistance dogs for children aged 3-10 years.

Cat stickers

If you want Freya to be interested in something, slap a cat sticker on it, or make the subject about cats; this will overcome her distrust of the unfamiliar, and when she’s comfortable, then she’ll actually do an activity. We have cat stickers on school books, pens, eating utensils, used as rewards, and on her orthotic leg braces.

Show and tell

Bunny
By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Our rabbit has been great for show and tell at school, giving my son, who doesn’t make friends easily, a chance to talk to other children and enjoy a bit of social interaction and communication.

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome

We found Kathy Hoopmann’s book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome a lighthearted and non-threatening way of explaining things simply. Hoopmann has done a series of books – I know there’s also All Dogs have ADHD.

Canine Partners

Canine Partners provides specially trained dogs to help with a range of practical, day to day tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine and even helping you to get undressed. They also provide special companionship, love and affection.

A furry friend

My son has profound learning disabilities and is unable to make friends, but he does have a friendship with our dog. My son can not play by himself but he will sit and play with our dog for ages. She is such great entertainment for him. Our dog is so patient with him and makes a huge difference to his life.

Cats as education

There’s no end to cats on the internet or applications available that feature cats. It’s instant entertainment, but also instant education. Quaky Cat developed from the Christchurch earthquakes, helped Freya cope with the Seddon earthquake that we felt here in Wellington last year.

Riding for the disabled

Girl laughing whilst riding a horseMy brother has being going to Riding for the Disabled (RDA) for years and loves it. It not only gives him great exercise, but it’s really built his confidence, and it’s also a fantastic social experience for him.

Saddle therapy

Horse riding has great therapeutic benefits, improving muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination and motor development. It also makes a great break from a wheelchair.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing Dogs is a national charity which trains dogs to alert deaf people to important sounds and danger signals at home, in the work place and public buildings. Hearing dogs can alert people to everything from alarm clocks to smoke alarms, and provide independence as well as companionship.

Purrfect communication

Something that’s hard for Freya is to read the facial expressions of others. So for her, communication with cats is relaxing – they don’t emote like humans. Cats’ non-verbal modes of communication are easier for Freya to relate to, such as purring, hissing and looking away to show you’re not a threat.

Dealing with loss

Our cat Ronnie taught Freya (who can become frustrated and anxious if a regular routine is broken) an important lesson when he passed away suddenly last year. The hard lesson to learn was that change is unpredictable and our loved ones will eventually pass away. Ronnie continues to be a mechanism for coping with loss and grief.

Easing social interaction

Social interaction with Freya can be difficult. She doesn’t look at your face and responds to questions with rote sentences, which can be disconcerting. But if you’ve got a cat, Freya wants to hear all about it. In our experience, people are only too happy to talk about their pets and this makes for easier interaction between them and Freya.

Dog keeps me calm

Assistance dog
By Liabilly Wildflower (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have bipolar and my dog really helps get me through the day. She keeps me calm, gets me out of the house everyday for walks and gives me cuddles when I’m upset. Since getting a dog I’ve had no more nights in hospital.

More freedom

Since my son has had his assistance dog, he’s had so much more freedom and independence from us. The dog wears a jacket informing people about his disability, and it’s been a great ice-breaker too, as people stop and chat to him now.

Building self confidence

I take my dog once a month to visit a young blind teenager with learning disabiities. She is quite frightened of dogs, and every time we visit, it takes her about an hour to pat him, but then she loves it. She really enjoys the interaction and sensory play. The sense of achievement she obviously feels when she finally pats him is wonderful.