To celebrate its 50th anniversary year in 2019, Riding for the Disabled Association is marking the milestone through its 50 Faces campaign, telling the stories of some of the amazing people who make RDA the extraordinary organisation it is today. Para Dressage rider, Sophie Christiansen, adds her story to the 50 Faces explaining how without RDA she wouldn’t be where she is today and her ambitions for continued success and her desire to help other riders achieve their dreams.
Here we meet…
Eight time Paralympic gold medallist, Sophie Christiansen, would never have even sat on a horse if it wasn’t for RDA.
Sophie was born two months prematurely with cerebral palsy and began riding at the age of six on 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 Riding for the Disabled Association 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 travelled 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. Riding for the Disabled Association has a lot to answer for!” added Sophie.
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 Riding for the Disabled Association at www.rda.org.uk