Ambitious para-rider from Kinmel Bay sets her sights on Rio 2016

An ambitious horse rider from has set her sights on the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016.

Denise Smith, 56, from Kinmel Bay, rides at the Clwyd Special Riding Centre in Llanfynydd near Wrexham, and has already competed for Wales at The British Dressage – Para-Dressage Home International 2012.

But the mother-of-two isn’t resting on her laurels. She said: “I’m aiming high. The next step up in the GB International and after that Rio 2016 will be firmly in my sights”

Denise was diagnosed with Cerebellar Ataxia 20 years ago, which affects her balance, speech and eye sight.

She said: “I’m permanently in the wheelchair because if I try to walk I lose my balance.

“It’s a neural condition and the messages from the brain are not getting through to the legs.

“Sometimes even now my speech will be very slurred as though I’ve been drinking.

“In fact when I first started with the illness people thought that I was drunk because I was still able to walk a bit then but I was wobbling.

“My eyesight it’s very blurred and is affected by bright lights such as headlights at night.

In 2008 Denise started riding at the Clwyd Special Riding Centre.

She said: “I just love it. It keeps me very active, and improves my condition as well because it keeps my joints going and stops them from seizing up.”

The Clwyd Special Riding Centre caters for 200 riders a week and is home to 23 horses and ponies.

The Centre of Excellence is run by eight members of staff as well as an army of volunteers, headed by 12 Trustees.

The impressive facilities include an indoor arena, an outdoor arena, a 1.5 km track, offices, staff accommodation.

Among those who use the facilities regularly are Wrexham, Dyffryn Ceiriog and Hope Mountain Riding for the Disabled Association groups.

The centre is the only one of its kind in the UK to provide holiday accommodation for disabled riders.

The centre has hosted groups from as far afield as Poland, Kosovo, Chernobyl, Russia and Hong Kong.

Phillip Gerrard Jones, a Trustee of the charity, said:  “We provide people with additional needs the opportunity to ride, carriage drive or equestrian vault to benefit their health and well being.

“We need £5,000 a week just to keep going. It’s a frightening amount and we have to work extremely hard to keep the money coming in – so every donation is very welcome.

Phillip is delighted with the way Britain’s Paralympians performed at London 2012 and believes it has help raise the profile of the benefits of riding to people who have disabilities.

He said: “I’m very proud of our Paralympians, and the Team GB horse people did exceptionally well both in the Olympics and the Paralympics.

“I think the London 2012 Paralympics will help change perceptions of disabled people in general and in sport.”

The Clwyd Special Riding Centre is where former Paralympic Gold Medallist Nicola Tustain honed her skills. The Paralympic Champion regularly returns to her own stomping ground to give riding lessons which will help Denise in her quest to reach Rio 2016.

In 2010 she bought her own horse for £1,400 and took a string of horse owner’s courses at Yale College, Wrexham.

Denise vividly recalls the day her life changed forever.

She said: When I got a phone call to say there was a place available at the centre I was absolutely over the moon.

“It was the best Christmas present ever! I still remember that phone call and my life changed from there.

Phillip added: “It’s a very worthwhile cause, and to see the joy these kids and adults get from that ride once a week is quite something.”

For more information about Clwyd Special Riding Centre and how to make a donation go to or ring 01352 770446.

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