Equestrian: Blind rider wins national title for third time

Equestrian: Blind rider wins national title for third time

Verna Clifford receives her trophy

Verna Clifford on Barney

First published in Yate and Sodbury Sport

A DRESSAGE rider from Old Sodbury is ecstatic after triumphing at the Riding for Disabled National Dressage Championships for the third time.

Verna Clifford, 63, was first in the Total Visually Impaired category at Hartpury College, retaining the title she won on the same horse, Barney, last year.

Clifford was born with sight problems and registered blind in 1974 but that didn’t stop her from learning to ride at the Avon Riding for Disabled Centre in Henbury and she has been competing in dressage for almost 20 years.

Her first victory at the Riding for Disabled National Dressage Championships came in 2004 on Polly but a lack of availability of horses meant she was unable to enter every year and she returned in 2013 for the first time in five years.

In order to compete, Clifford must supply eight volunteers, who call to let her know where various points are on the course, and she insists she owes them a lot for her success.

“I’d like to pay tribute to the volunteers at the Avon Riding for Disabled Centre in Henbury,” said Clifford.

“It’s a lot of effort to gather eight people who can do it.

“I’m pleased to have done it and really humbled to have all these people I’m so reliant on.

“I was choked when they called my name and so pleased to have done if for them and so pleased to have done it for myself as well.

“I just wanted to cry. It is fabulous.”

“Without them calling it would be virtually impossible. It’s quite easy to go out of the arena.

“I would be lost. I would attempt it but I would be hopeless because I do not know where I am.

Clifford beat her score of last year by one point, scoring 112 marks and 70 per cent, but faced an anxious wait to learn her fate after completing the test as her instructor kept her result secret.

“I didn’t know where I was placed until they called my name,” said Clifford.

“That is the most nervous I am waiting to see what place I have. Riding the test I was quite calm.

“I would like to enter again next year.”

Clifford will get an automatic entry to the 2015 national final, meaning she will not have to compete in regional qualifiers.

The course at Hartpury has been the same for the last two years and that helped in her preparations.

She said: “I know the test by heart. My husband reads the test and I had it on a Dictaphone and would pace it round my kitchen.”

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