Para dressage rider Zoe Squirrell explains “if it wasn’t for the SAFO, I wouldn’t be where I am now”

Zoe was born 7 weeks early and experienced a brain haemorrhage which resulted in her having Cerebral Palsy as well as a sight condition called Nystagmus.

Nystagmus is a condition that makes pupil’s flicker fast resulting in long distance vision becoming blurry along with problems with peripheral vision.

Zoe throughout her life has been extremely determined which she credits to her family. She explained, “They would always find a way to make things happen.” Zoe's family and friends around her always had an alternative plan if the first one wasn’t possible. They were strong willed that Zoe would join them on whatever venture they would embark on whether that be long walks or holidays.

When Zoe was 7 years old she discovered her passion for riding whilst visiting her cousin in Germany. As soon as Zoe sat on her cousins’ horse she begged her parents to start riding and fell in love with horses. In dressage, Zoe found a great talent, which she has continued to harness since. Zoe explained how riding is a lifelong commitment, “as long as I am able- I want to be in the saddle. riding makes me feel empowered.” She continued to say “I feel restricted on the ground however when on a horse I feel free. In those four minutes in the arena being able to produce something that not only feels amazing but also looks amazing is incredible.”

Fighting the odds and being the courageous women she is, Zoe went on to have a career in Para Dressage as well as completing a degree in Occupational Therapy and now continues to lead a life with the outlook to inspire and motivate others.

After years of wearing uncomfortable splints which caused rubbing, Zoe discovered in Hemi Help Magazine an advert for the SAFO (Silicone Ankle Foot Orthosis.) The SAFO is an alternative to conventional ankle foot orthoses to aid foot lift weakness.

10 years ago Zoe called through to Dorset Orthopaedic and had a consultation in her local Ringwood Clinic, whilst there she was offered to trial a SAFO with great success. Zoe explained, “I could never go back to conventional splints. If it wasn’t for the SAFO, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It has changed my life, it was so comfortable and gave me so many options.” Previously, Zoe could never wear a splint inside of riding boots however with a SAFO she finally could whilst having a stable left foot.

Zoe currently works for the National Trust and is always on the go. Zoe attributes her ability to be able to work on her feet all day due to the SAFO. “It matches my skin colour also which is great, I can go out in the summer wearing shorter trousers and no one would know it is there.”

This year Zoe has competed in two international competitions and won both! Zoe explained, “In 2012 I watched the London Paralympics which made me think if they can do it, so can I. 10 years later I am representing my country. It has been the biggest buzz and something I will never forget. My body was pushed to the limits and it would have not been possible without wearing my SAFO.”

Zoe continues to say how imperative it is to remember to find what works for you- you do not need to feel like you have to fit into norms because at the end of the day… there is no such thing as “normal!”

*Pictures were taken at The National Trust- Corfe Castle*