Saddle up for accessible sport opportunities

Equestrian Clubs are the most prevalent providers of parasport opportunities in the UK, according to research by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire. 

A man riding on the back of a horse
  • Almost 500 (16%) of the 3149 clubs listed on the Parasport website database relate to equestrian sports.*
  • Less than 1% of clubs sourced through offered relevant athletic opportunities.**

Horse-riding, driving, and other related equestrian activities make up a large proportion of disability sports opportunities in the UK. Nearly 500 (497/16%) of parasport clubs listed on offer Equestrian activities for disabled children and adults. 

Of the 98 Gold medals won at the Paralympics in London (2012) and Rio (2016), 12% were in Equestrian events. 

Less than 1%** of clubs sourced through offered relevant athletic opportunities, despite athletics accounting for more than quarter (27%) of the gold medals obtained by Team GB at the last two Paralympic games.

Even in urban areas, horse-riding is readily available. For example, in London, there are, on average, 13 clubs offered within 10 miles of every postcode.

The research showed there is a clear skew towards London-based parasport generally, however all but one postcode in the UK wide sample offered equestrian activities.

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is a key provider of these services, and two members of the Paralympics equestrian team accessed the sport through the organisation. The RDA works across the UK, allowing 25,000 disabled adults and children to access horse-riding, carriage driving and therapeutic animal care. 

The RDA’s Caroline Ward said:

“Great Britain’s Paralympic success in Para Dressage is in no small part thanks to the RDA.  Indeed, several of this year’s team heading out to Tokyo started their careers at their local RDA group. Our reach across the UK offers young people and adults the opportunity to take up horse riding and carriage driving to achieve a personal goal – be that for therapy or fun. And for some that goal means a gold medal or two!

“We are very grateful to Leonard Cheshire for looking into this and highlighting the reach of RDA groups across the UK. We are often located in more rural areas, where the provision of other activities may be quite limited, enabling us to inspire and support more disabled people into equestrian sport.” 

Leonard Cheshire’s award-winning ‘Can Do’ scheme offers young disabled people the opportunity to have new experiences, acquire skills and try out sports.  And during lockdown, Paralympian and Leonard Cheshire’s Global Ambassador for Sport, Olivia Breen, co-developed an introductory toolkit to stay active at home, called #ShowMeYouCan.

Leonard Cheshire CEO Ruth Owen commented:

“Through our extensive work within the disabled community, we have been able to see what a huge impact accessible clubs, sports and other life opportunities can have. 

“Charities like Leonard Cheshire can play their part in providing and promoting the opportunities out there. We’d also urge clubs to do so on the parasport website.  It’s a vital resource for young disabled athletes inspired by the Paralympics.”  

Horse-riding is easily adapted to those with disabilities, through small pieces of additional equipment, such as looped reins, and the presence of volunteers who can lead the ponies or horses. It is also well suited to those with limited mobility. Even people who are unable to sit in the saddle can ride in a horse-pulled cart, including those in wheelchairs. 

Many people also find that the space to connect with a living creature can be calming and help them feel a positive connection. The social interaction between human and animal also requires rules, such as no shouting or sudden movement, which can help those with learning and developmental disabilities cope with structure in other areas of life, such as school or work. 

If you want to find horse-riding opportunities in your area, check  or the RDA website.

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Notes to editors

*Equestrian Research

Equestrian stats are overall across the whole country and include both the clubs included in our own sample – 8% of 2321 were equestrian - and the complete picture outside our sample.  The UK total is therefore, 15% of 3149 clubs. 

**Choosing the sample locations

Postcode selection was proportional to population in each region. A region with a higher percentage of the UK population had a larger number of postcodes selected. These numbers were determined by proportionally matching percentage and total postcodes. 

Postcode numbers varied from 1-5 from each region.

These values were then entered into a random number generator. The generator was run until a series of different integers were selected, with no repeats. 

For example, the South-East has 13.8% of the UK population, which would proportionally equal 17/124 postcodes. Divided, this became a delegated 5 postcodes from the region. There are 18 postcodes in the region. So, numbers 1-18 were entered into the random generator, and it was run until 5 distinct values were shown. These were 1,3,6, 12 & 17. Which translated to BN, CR, GU, RG, and TN.

Gathering the data

Using the Parasport website, each postcode was entered in the form of ##1 or equivalent to assign a central location. All clubs within a 10mile radius were shown. There may have been repeats, but the list provided by the search remained unedited.

From this list, total number of clubs were recorded, then broken down into different sports relevant to gold medal medals won in Paralympic competition since (and including) London 2012. 

Within each region, the mean was found to show how many clubs, on average were available in each postcode. 

As well as this, percentage values of each sport across the UK were recorded, e.g., out of 2321 recorded clubs, 25 were table tennis, which is equal to 1.08%. 

This data was then compared to gold medal wins at the Paralympics, 2012 and 2016, e.g., 1 of the 98 gold medals won in these years was in table tennis, or 1.02%. Therefore, availability of para-table tennis opportunities is proportional.