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National horse-riding award for disabled Stockton man
A MAN who is completely paralysed in one half of his body and had never been on a horse in his life until the beginning of the year has won a national award for horse-riding.
Paul Conway, 53, of Norton near Stockton, sat on a horse for the first time just ten months ago and before that spent at least 50 per cent of his waking hours in a wheelchair.
Now the former physiotherapist says his life has been transformed and as well as winning a national Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) award for most improved rider, uses his wheelchair far less, writes more and often goes out alone.
Mr Conway, who no longer has hearing or sight on his left side, said he tried “every kind of therapy you can think of” in the ten years since he became paralysed but nothing worked.
Then a doctor friend suggested he tried equine therapy at the RDA Unicorn Centre in Hemlington, Middlesbrough.
“When I went, I saw all these children, some of them really, seriously disabled, and I cried. I looked at them and thought, ‘right, Paul, you lazy so-and-so, you’ve got to at least try.’”
Mr Conway was preparing to represent Britain in the over-40s World Championships in Melbourne as a marathon runner in 2003 when he became paralysed due to a clot on his brain.
At first he could do little for himself and, although he would go out alone, he would sometimes find himself lost and confused and have to be taken home by police.
He said: “Now I’m on my feet, I’m only in the wheelchair for really long trips and I go out alone more.
"The therapy helps open the ‘pathways’ in your brain and gets the adrenaline and serotonin going. I started off like an egg on a pencil the first time I was on a horse, and it’s a long way down, but the staff are wonderful.”
Mr Conway, who has also won rosettes for dressage riding, was presented with his award by Clare Balding at a formal award night in London earlier this month.
*The Unicorn Centre helps hundreds of disabled children and adults every year but needs £270,000 to survive. Log on to rdaunicorncentre.co.uk
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