Stay updated with all the latest stories, news and FEI events across the globe.
Matthew’s story is full of bigger obstacles and more hurdles than most of us could ever imagine.
Twenty-two year old Matthew Dalley was born with a brain condition called Pachygyria. As a result, he has significant muscle weakness and co-ordination problems.
He is also autistic, an ADHD sufferer, and has some learning difficulties. On top of this, Matthew is a profoundly deaf sign language user who cannot talk or lip read.
Despite these challenges, Matthew is a competitive Jumper and spends his spare time volunteering and working, giving back as much to the community as he can.
Matthew Dalley was only six years old the first time he went to a Riding for the Disabled Centre, but a lifelong love and passion was sparked on that very first day.
When asked why, Matthew’s reply is simple;
“Being with horses makes me feel calmer and more focused. Riding has helped my confidence, given me a purpose and targets to work towards, and developed my physical strength and co-ordination. All these things have helped me cope with the challenges of everyday life.”
Matthew is fiercely determined and lives by himself in supported living with some great support workers and his family close by. He makes the most of the hand he has been dealt, though says that his life is a “constant challenge” due to his autism, which makes it “very hard to be with people and to fit in with things that are going on around me.”
In order to cope, Matthew turns to his horses. He needs a lot of time and space on his own to handle the pressure of everyday life, but horses provide some welcome respite.
“For me, communicating with horses is probably much easier than with people! Horses aren’t bothered about disabilities or deafness. We communicate through body language and that works just fine. I definitely find it easier to be with horses than with people” says Matthew.
Frankly, we agree entirely!
“My days revolve mainly around my riding and volunteer work. Time with my horse and riding always makes me feel good and I ride four or five times a week. I’ve always found being with horses and riding makes me feel so much better. When I was growing up and other things were difficult in my life, riding was the one thing that really worked for me.”
He admits that, “there are still times when it is difficult to get up and get out,” but cheerfully adds that if anything can make him do it, it’s riding."
We wanted to know what keeps him going on his darkest days and Matthew says that while his physical disabilities mean that he doesn’t have the strength, coordination of balance that other people have, he’s been given more than his fair share of determination, and that’s what keeps him progressing and moving forward.
Matthew’s volunteer work is another big part of what keeps him going each day. He does help out on the yard, but says his disabilities make him particularly suited to running websites and social media on a local as well as national level. This way, Matthew says, he gets to be part of the team and build his skills without his disabilities holding him back.
Matthew tells us that he “loves to compete” and that a lot of his riding is focused on improving and doing better, which helps keep him motivated on a daily basis.
In typical Matthew Dalley fashion, he doesn’t limit himself to one discipline or type of show either.
“Well, I started competing with RDA initially doing dressage, but as my riding progressed so did my passion for jumping, so now I do both.”
He’s graded III for dressage and II for show jumping but takes part in both para-competitions as well as able-bodied shows.
Even with this exemplary attitude, training and competing comes with its difficulties.
"There aren’t many coaches out there who can sign, so I usually have someone working with the coach to interpret for me. With sign language you can’t really communicate when you’re on the move though, so there’s a lot of stopping and starting, and the coach can’t talk you through things whilst you’re riding, so it does make training a lot harder.
Competing is hard for me too as it involves going out to different places and having to adapt to other people and routines, but I love it once I get in the arena with my horse and we can perform to the best of our ability.
Of course I still love to win and one of my proudest achievements was winning the British Show Jumping Para Club Championship Grade II title in 2015.”
What’s Matt’s biggest motivation in life? He said that watching other riders and wanting to emulate them really got him going and made him the rider he is today, but he wasn’t ignorant of all the workers behind the scenes.
He says “I want to be a role model too, and show others that no matter what your disability, whatever challenges life gives you, you can succeed if you want to.”
When asked to consider what effect the RDA and horses have had on his life, Matt doesn’t need to stop and think:
“Volunteering has become a very big and important part of my life. Even though I am autistic, I like to be a part of team and work with others.
RDA has given me the chance to do this, and I have found a role that suits me and my abilities, but that also helps other people. I have become something of an ambassador for RDA, both locally and nationally.
My story shows how RDA and horses can be life changing and I’m happy that it is told to help other people to benefit in the same way.
RDA and horses have made me the person I am today and I wouldn’t be here without them!”
So if this young man can offer so much, despite his challenges, the rest of our day might not seem so much of a chore after all...
To follow the adventures of this amazing young man, check out his Facebook page HERE
Text by Sophie Baker
Images from Social Media