Horse riders' high hopes as Special Olympics come to Rotherham

Horse riders' high hopes as Special Olympics come to Rotherham

By Adele Forrest | 04/08/2017

Horse riders' high hopes as Special Olympics come to Rotherham
Members of the Dearne Valley Special Olympics Group are seen with their new kit ahead of representing Yorkshire and Humberside in the upcoming Special Olympics Summer Games. Equestrian team members taking part (left to right) are: Josie Southwell, group secretary; Matthew Gregory, Alyssia Marsh, groom; Charlotte Feron (8), Jonathan Dexter (11) and Marjorie Sheppard, coach. 171334-3

A HOPEFUL team of horse riders have got their sights set on gold as the Olympics come to Rotherham.

The five athletes, who train at Thorpe Hesley’s High Hopes Riding for the Disabled Group, will be competing at the tenth Special Olympics GB National Summer Games which is being held at Aston’s Parklands Equestrian Centre next week.

The Olympics will be the largest sports event to take place in the country for people with learning disabilities and 2,600 athletes will compete in a number of sports at venues across Rotherham and Sheffield. 

Going for gold in the equestrian are Charlotte Ferron (8) of Sunnyside, Alicia Niven (14) of Bramley, Matthew Gregory (43) of Kimberworth, Jonathan Dexter (11) of Wickersley and Adrian Day (56) from Withernsea.

The five have all been selected to be part of the 17-strong Yorkshire and Humberside team after coming top in regional heats and will compete at Parklands on Wednesday and Thursday.

Josie Southwell, secretary of the Dearne Valley Special Olympics Group, which is affiliated to the riding school, said: “The Special Olympics follows the same pattern as the Olympics and is held every four years, so we have been working towards this for a long time, it’s a very important week for everyone.”

The Special Olympics National Games began in 1978 and only Adrian has competed in them previously and Charlotte is the team’s youngest competitor.

Categories are based on ability and the five riders from High Hopes will be competing in category C, which is at walking speed.

In category B, riders walk and trot and in category A, riders walk, trot and canter.

Matthew and Adrian will be unled, while Jonathan, Charlotte and Alicia will be led.

Each competitor will compete in dressage, a walking trail and horse care and knowledge.

Marjorie Sheppard, instructor at High Hopes and also a Special Olympics Regional Coach for Yorkshire and Humberside Equestrian, said the tournament was a major event for the riders and was their equivalent of the Olympic Games.

The games also promote social and personal development and participants stay in the athletes’ village for the duration and for many this would be their first time away from home.

Eight-year-old Charlotte was born with a rare neurological condition and mum Katrina Ferron was told she would never walk, talk or sit up.

She began horse riding after a physiotherapist suggested it might help her balance and speech issues.

And Charlotte is now looking forward to competing in her biggest competition to date.

Diane Dexter said it was a “wonderful” opportunity for son Jonathan, who has Down’s syndrome, adding: “I’m nervous about him staying away for five nights, he’s never been away for that long before, but we’ve been building up to it for two years.”

Richard Sampson, who runs Parklands with his dad Robert, said: “We are really proud to be hosting the event and are really looking forward to seeing everybody do well.”

The Special Olympics’ opening ceremony will be held at Bramall Lane on Tuesday. For more information and tickets visit or call 020 7247 8891.

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