“He’s Got a Real Connection”: Working With Horses Changes the Life of 16-Year-Old Rider Diagnosed With Autism

Published 05/29/2023, 4:19 PM EDT

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It does not matter how different one is from others, animals, including horses, never discriminate. For the differently-abled, this unconditional acceptance is like a cool salve on a burning wound, and for some might even be a novelty. Thanks to this special bond with horses, a British teenager hailing from Malmesbury, Wiltshire, has come out of his shell and gained a newfound confidence.

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Toby Clapham, an autistic 16-year-old, who suffers from anxiety as a result of being on the spectrum, has established a coping mechanism in riding racehorses. Racing horses has completely turned around the life of this once-anxious kid.

How horseriding changed the life of an autistic equestrian

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It was May 21, when Toby Clapham won the senior British novice second round at Allens Hill, Worcestershire after he jumped three clears on his mother’s horse, Shanaclough Phantom. 38 riders participated in the event, and Toby left them all in the dust. He finished the race with a handsome 4.26 seconds clear of his nearest rival and finished with a time of 38.12 seconds.

By winning the round at Allens Hill, the teenager cleared a path for himself to the final which is to be held at Stoneleigh in August. Alex Harris, riding Champions Firecracker, came in second with a time of 42.38 seconds, and Emma Slater, riding Hullabalou’s Darco, came in third with 44.93 seconds.

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Anabelle, Toby’s mother, described to Horse and Hound just how joyous the teenager was at the wins. She said, “Toby was over the moon to win. It was a really big course, and for such a big horse Simba tried so hard to get round those corners, but they won by more than four seconds.” Before the finals, the family plans to travel to Hickstead and take some classes at the Royal International. Annabelle also expressed the wish to have Toby’s twin, Charlie, compete in horseracing as well.

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Toby Clapham was diagnosed with autism the year before, and since then, had to face cruelty from his peers as they bullied him for being on the spectrum. As a result, the teenager’s confidence took a hit and he even dropped out of school. However, competing in equestrian sports gave him a second wind. Clapham got the chance to ride when the father of one of his classmates, and a horse trainer, Andrew Balding, offered the opportunity. According to Annabelle, that was the day his life changed forever.

His mother described the change in him saying, “He didn’t really talk to anyone before, but being at such a big yard with lots of lads and staff, he’s now communicating and chatting. He’s really enjoying working with the young horses and is totally unfazed, he’s got a real connection with horses.”

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Now, Toby goes to school two times a week and rides out racehorses for the other three. His special bond with the horses, and his adeptness at riding them, have ensured that he has now become a viable candidate for an apprenticeship under Andrew Balding.

Watch This Story: After the Terrible Fate of 8 Horses, Equestrian Program Leader Faces Repercussions 

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Written by:

Apoorva Behl

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Apoorva Behl is a sports writer for EssentiallySports. With a range that would make Bruce Lee proud, Apoorva’s writing embodies the philosophy of "Be Like Water," flowing seamlessly between a diverse range of sports and sensitive angles. Her articles are known to resonate with her audience, earning her a common spot on the Editor’s Pick list.
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Edited by:

Anupama Ghosh

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