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Reporter heads into the great outdoors in Elstree to meet a Mill Hill Paralympic hopeful
As Olympic fever grips the nation Times Series reporter Emma Innes visits Penniwells Riding Centre for the Disabled to meet their Paralympic hopeful.
I am not going to deny that the opportunity to spend a morning in the great outdoors was an appealing one.
Having spent most of my childhood – ok, I admit it – most of my life, dreaming of marrying a farmer and living The Good Life, I was not going to turn down the chance to don my wellies and hit the yard.
Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm that I swapped my Burberry for my Barbour and headed out to meet torch-bearing Paralympic hopeful, 15-year-old Michael Murphy.
Michael, who lives in Mill Hill and attends Mill Hill County High School, was born with Dejerine-Sottas, a rare condition that causes severe muscle weakness and loss of sensation in his limbs.
However, neither this, nor the fact that he had major surgery to correct the curvature of his spine in September 2011, has dampened Michael’s Olympic spirit.
The GCSE student started riding horses at the age of five as a form of therapy which aimed to help strengthen his muscles.
At this time he required a leader and two side helpers just to keep him on the pony.
However, Michael took to riding like a duck to water and he, and his 12-year-old grey Cava, are now on the fast track to the 2016 Rio Games.
Michael said: “I started riding for therapy with two side riders and a leader.
“I really enjoyed it and went to competitions for fun and it just took off from there.
“It’s really changed my life. Getting to the Olympics would mean everything to me.
“I’ve been training for so long and it would be amazing to see that pay off.”
The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital patient trains up to six times a week at Penniwells Riding Centre for the Disabled in Edgewarebury Lane, Elstree, and is a para-dressage champion.
He has won five Junior International championships, and was 2010 British Dressage KBIS National Champion, all in the Grade 1a category.
As Michael explains: “Para-dressage is graded depending on your level of disability, and in competitions you are put against people who are similar to you.”
Grade 1a is the category for those most severely disabled.
Michael said: “One of the most critical things is the bond between me and Cava.
“If you have a strong bond and work well together then you can take on the world.”
However, Michael would never have had the opportunity to get to where he is now if it was not for Penniwells and his dedicated coach, and torch-bearing companion, Sarah Healing.
Penniwells gives 130 disabled riders the chance to sit on a horse each week.
The yard, which has 14 working horses, is run by five paid staff members and an army of volunteers.
Group organiser, Sarah Healing, 42, said: “There are people who have laughed for the first time here; people who have spoken their first word while sitting on a horse.
“For a lot of our riders this is the only exercise they get. They get to know the ponies, they get independence and they get the chance to socialise.”
While visiting Michael I was able to see for myself the pleasure that this amazing facility gives people with disabilities from throughout the surrounding area.
I spent half an hour walking alongside a charming young man as he enjoyed a riding lesson.
Luke is both deaf and dumb but no one could have had any difficulty appreciating the fact that he was loving every minute he spent on the horse; his smile was worth a thousand words.