Double European and World medallist Erin Orford, 31 from High Wycombe is a leading International Para Dressage Rider and is aiming to bring home the gold in the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics.
Erin was born missing the tibia bone in both legs leading to a through knee amputation when she was 1 year old. Because of these missing bones, Erin had no stability in her legs and was unable to weight bear. Erin is also missing the radius bone in both arms but has not let her disability hold her back. “I have only ever used prosthetics legs so I don’t know any different. It’s how I first learnt to walk, I’ve never had a wheelchair and so I’ve been reliant on using prosthetic legs my whole life”.
Growing up, Erin went to a standard school where most of her friends did not have a disability. Having always been competitive, Erin was determined not to let her situation prevent her from doing what she wanted. “My friends were really great”, said Erin. “If we were doing anything, they would just look at me and say, ‘Come on, let’s go’, they didn’t see me as someone who was disabled.
This competitive nature has been a trusted ally for Erin throughout her life and driven her to achieve great things already. “I was quite stubborn growing up”, said Erin. “If someone said I wouldn’t be able to do something, it made me want to do it more just to prove them wrong. However, people can have a different response to this, especially when they’re younger and haven’t had a chance to discover the full extent of their abilities. Telling someone they can’t do something can make you question yourself and discourage them from trying, which means that you set limits for yourself before you even know whether you have a limit. That’s what makes the Paralympic movement so special, it highlights what people can do, rather than what they can’t.”
From a very young age, Erin has always been very sporty and tried a variety of different things alongside her able bodied peers. Her passion has always been riding though, ever since the age of 2. “I’d ridden from the age of 2 for therapy reasons but the transition to sport riding didn’t happen until I was about 15, before then I didn’t really know much about the Paralympics or see opportunities to compete that might take me in that direction.”
Erin’s mum worked with Para Basketball player Clare Strange’s mum and Clare was heavily involved with Sport England and sport Development. “Clare persuaded me to have a go at wheelchair basketball but my shorter arms and limited experience in a wheelchair didn’t work in my favour so we stuck to my true passion, which was riding and she put me in touch with a riding group that had several sport riders, one of which was fellow athlete, Sophie Christianson.”
In 2004, Erin travelled to Athens to watch the Paralympics. “I went from not being around many people with disabilities and trying to blend in to being completely immersed”, said Erin. “I saw the British team win gold, heard the national anthem and I realised this is my goal, this is what I want to do”.