“Without horses I couldn’t be me, it gives me the sense of freedom that my body restricts me to have”
Tegan Vincent-Cooke started horse riding for physiotherapy at age 4. Now, at 18, she is a member of Team GB and has her eye on the Paralympics
My name is Tegan Vincent-Cooke and I am 18 years old. I was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy at birth which means that my limbs are very stiff and have such a variety and range of different tones. One day I may just have a limb due to the stiffness in my legs, the next I can’t get out of bed because I feel if I move I may break a bone. It’s different every day. Living with a condition such as mine makes it very difficult to do things as a young kid. I wasn’t able to walk until I was two and I felt a lot of the kids were ahead of me and it was very difficult to keep up with my friends. Thankfully from what I remember my friends were very understanding at this young age and tried to make me feel as included as possible.
At the age of four is when the struggles began. My friends were playing sports that I couldn’t and it was hard to keep up with everyone. Instead while they did PE I often did my physio, which every kid aged 4 despises. Thankfully my physio Theresa Miller suggested to my parents that I should try horse riding and put in an application for me to join Avon Riding Centre for the disabled. Not too long after I had my first lesson aged 4 and a half on a little white pony named TicTac in which I feel in love. Although it was just walking around, doing a few stretches and stroking ponies it was the best activity I’d ever done. It made physio fun, when I rode the pony the stiffness of my limbs would slowly fade giving me the hint of freedom that I so desperately craved.
I continued riding throughout primary school which was also around the age I started competing in Dressage. To many, dressage is simply walking around in circles and lines to music. But Dressage is much more complex, it requires skill, accuracy, precision, teamwork. It is the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance, which I can tell you isn’t as easy as it sounds. But the challenge is what I love about it, I love that this was my thing that no one else could do as good as I can.
After a few years I became the best. Winning every competition I entered, winning national champion three times in a row, I was the best but I wanted to be better. I started to research where I can go and what I can do next. I was able to get the advice of Clive Milkins, coach of Paralympian Sophie Christianson, and he told me about Sophie’s journey to the Paralympics. Instantly that is what I wanted and the first step to do so was to join the GB Dressage program. The program is something that students are selected for when they are doing well and maintaining high marks. So I made sure that I trained and trained, every competition I wanted higher than the last. I’d actually get very upset if I didn’t get the score I wanted even coming first place, I was very hard on myself. Thankfully in 2015 my hard work paid off and I was selected to join the team.
Now at 18 I’m still riding and still riding with Avon. I’m also on team GB working my way up to get to the ParalympicsGB team in the near future. People are very shocked at how long I’ve been riding for and the rider I’ve become to be and to be honest I am too. But horse riding is something I simply couldn’t live without, not only is it physically therapy for my body it’s mentally therapeutic and allows me to clear my mind and channel my energy into something that I love. It gives me the sense of freedom that by body restricts me to have. Without horses I couldn’t be me!
There is one downside to being a rider though and that is in order to compete and be an Olympian you have to own your own horse. I’m currently loaning horses from here, there and everywhere but I’m desperate to get my own someday. In order to do though I hope to get a sponsor to support with the costs as horses are very expensive creatures to keep. But once I get my own horse that would remove the restrictions that loaning horses has and I’ll be able to train, compete and develop at a faster pace which then enables me to get that bit closer to my end goal. So if you know anyone that would like to support in any way at all I’d really appreciate it and don’t be afraid to get in touch.
You can continue to follow my riding journey on Instagram @tegan.vincent.cooke or Facebook (Tegan Rosa).