Equestrian: Kathryn overcoming the hurdles en route to Addington

Showing the way: Kathryn Wheelock has been riding horses for 30 years despite having cerebral palsy and her determination and persistence now sees her heading to a prestigious first ever showing finals in Addington next month. Picture by SMR Photos. Other photos by Chris Lax photography.

SKIPTON’S Kathryn Wheelock faces a big obstacle to fulfil her love of horse riding.

The 42-year-old dressage rider from Glusburn has cerebral palsy which causes her to be weak down one side of her body, leading to poor co-ordination as well as a learning disability.

Wheelock, though, has been determined to find the road to stardom and is doing just that en route to a prestigious national showing finals in Addington next month and the first ever of its sort.

Wheelock and Westpoint First of Many won the first ever qualifier for the South Essex Insurance Brokers Riding For The Disabled Association’s Search for a Star at Osbaldeston in April and the duo will be heading to Addington in September for the final.

Kathryn’s mum, Jan Wheelock, is county chairman for the West Yorkshire RDA and looks after 13 groups in the area.

Three riders from Yorkshire and Cleveland have qualified for the final with Kathryn set to be joined by Stokesley RDA’s Kayla Pratt riding Hunky Dory and the Unicorn Centre in Middlesbrough’s Brook-Leigh Johnson on Wrentnall Showman. The trio are now counting down the days to next month’s extravaganza for which Yorkshire showing star Robert Walker will be a judge. Walker, a former regular winner at the Great Yorkshire Show, was himself seriously injured in a hunting fall in January and is now confined to a wheelchair.

And Kathryn is hoping the inaugural RDA Search for a Star competition will provide inspiration all around. The final will take place during the British Show Horse Association hunter championship show at Addington on September 7.

Kathryn told The Yorkshire Post: “I think it’s great that disabled riders are being included in another branch of competitive riding – the new showing competition will grow in popularity I am sure. Many thanks to the RDA and SEIB for getting the competition off the ground.

“I am determined to do well in the Search for a Star final. I am also very much looking forward to meeting Robert Walker – maybe as a result of judging our class he will feel able to get back on a horse?”

Kathryn has been riding horses for the last 30 years with the equine love affair beginning through the Pony Club.

The rider has now belonged to Otley and the Dales Riding For The Disabled Association Group for 25 years. After joining the Otley RDA, Kathryn’s interest in riding and showing continued to grow and she rode in Para dressage for GB for a short time. The Skipton star then became a regular member of the Irish Para squad for around 10 years where she travelled all over Europe with the team.

More recently, the rider has taken to riding in British Dressage able bodied dressage and can now hold her own up to elementary level.

And plans for the remainder of 2017 extend far beyond next month’s Addington final with Kathryn having qualified for a British Dressage Pet Plan final later this year on the back of qualifying for the British Dressage Winter Championships at Hartpury for the last two years.

Wheelock also represents Calderdale Saddle club and recently achieved sixth place in the elementary section with her team second overall at the Riding Club area 4 regional competitions.

Kathryn explained: “I have compensating aids when I ride like my loop reins and special stirrups which help with my physical disabilities. My main problem then is I can’t remember my dressage tests.

“With showing this could be a little easier as I would not have to follow an exact pattern when doing a show.”

Furthermore, the rider has not one but two strong horses to go to war with 19-year-old Westpoint First of Many or Mr Fly to his friends joined by longer term prospect Falsete whose stable name is Rio.

Kathryn is also blessed by a strong support team that is led by her sister Alison who also competes herself.

The rider is trained by Kath Pinington, Jo Graham and sometimes the Irish trainer, Donie McNamara, while physio Victoria Spalding and farrier Richard Sunderland are other key members of the success story, as of course are mum, Jan, and dad, Verner.

Sizing up her long-term ambitions, Kathryn pondered: “My ambitions are always to show my two gorgeous but very different horses off to their full potential – whether it be in showing or dressage – everybody likes to win of course and I am very competitive.

“I have managed to beat my sister on a couple of big occasions! I already know that Fly is a star and I will be doing my very best to show him off at Addington.

“The evening performance will be exciting and maybe a little scary but Fly likes nothing better than a mounted prize-giving and I know he will rise to the occasion!”

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