Autistic man from West Yorkshire "locked in his own world" wins two national dressage titles
Oliver Peace, 31, from Upton, competed at the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) National Championships which were held across two days on the weekend of November 18 and 19.
There were more than 400 entries and Oliver, who has a coordination disorder and autism, won two national titles in dressage.
The event took place virtually, with video entries of the top placed riders broadcast on Facebook and YouTube with live commentary from equestrian podcaster Rosie Russell and international dressage rider Lauren O'Hagan.
Oliver had filmed his round at Back Lane Stables, Leeds where he trains several times a week with his coach Gemma Hughes.
Representing High Hopes RDA, Oliver riding BLS Bailey finished in first place in the Grade 4 Championship Dressage Class.
In the Freestyle competition Oliver, riding BLS Sophie, performed to a medley of music from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, finishing as overall class champions with a new personal best score and achieving the highest mark in freestyle over the entire weekend.
Oliver said: "I am so excited to be double National Champion and happy to win riding Bailey because it was my last time with Bailey, he is now enjoying a well deserved retirement."
Oliver’s parents, Steve and Tanya, started Able2 Pontefract back in 2009 due to the lack of competitions that were accessible to people with learning disabilities.
Now they have 20 members and volunteers who support athletes and their families at events and give them access to athletics, boccia, new age kurling, swimming and table tennis as well as equestrian com petition.
Able2 Pontefract is affiliated to Special Olympics Great Britain as well as membership, partnership and links with many other sports governing bodies.
Oliver was diagnosed with autism when he was five years old and later took up other sports to help build his fitness, improve his coordination and confidence.
Making friends and being part of a sports family has been an important part of his social life and has opened up what had been previously for Oliver, an isolated world.
Over the years Oliver has competed in many equestrian events at national level. He has also represented Great Britain nine times at the Virtus World Para Equestrian competitions in dressage with his best result being a Third Place.
Father, Steve told Country Post: “Whilst he was able to participate in training, at the time the world was different and he was excluded from competing because of his learning disabilities. There was a need to try and plug that gap I suppose.
There were also those with Downs Syndrome that were excluded at the time or it did not lend themselves very well because of their physiology.”
Back in the 1990s when Oliver was a youngster there was less awareness of autism, and even less opportunities available to access education and social activities.
Steve added: “In those days in the early 90s, if your GP had heard of it you were doing well. You can imagine now how the world has developed and the awareness and recognition of what autism can be associated with.
“At five years-old we got the meeting and left it devastated. Now there are autism support groups grabbing you on the way out. I am not saying it is a better world but there is more help and expertise around.”
One of the theories that has been well publicised since is how animals can prove to have a healing and helpful effect on people with disabilities and neurological conditions.
A neighbour of the family who is a nurse happened to have had a placement working with a Steiner School in Wakefied and their clients accessed a Riding for the Disabled school.
Oliver started going along and Steve says he has not got off the horse since.
From a young boy that was stuck in his own world, who would fall on his knees and bang his head - he is flourishing as a 31 year-old, who feels comfortable with routine, familiarity and planning.
He said: “There is always a smile now, everyone says how happy he is. It got to a stage when you took him to the car park and the horse would come to say hello to him. There is a mutual pleasure with horse and rider.
“My wife and I and the coaches are all incredibly proud of his achievements and his talent and the way that his sporting skills have developed. They have given him the chance to shine.
“It has been great for the whole family. Oliver now gets me and my wife out and about to different places and breaks our being isolated as well.”