I started riding horses before I could walk.
Growing up, horses taught me about trust, responsibility and discipline. They gave me a great sense of adventure and I developed very strong relationships with them.
Frank was the love of my life. I had him for four years when I was 11 years old. With his pink nose and spiky mane, most people thought he was ugly, but in my eyes he was the most handsome beast on earth.
I’m a strong believer in horses bringing out the good in people. They reflect the best and worst in you. If you’re patient and kind you will be rewarded with an incredible bond. But if you’re short tempered, they won’t react well.
They’ve always been there for me. I went through a terrible phase at school, where I was failing in maths and struggling in French, and got suspended for shoplifting after falling in with the wrong crowd. Everything seemed to be going wrong.
But the one thing I knew I could do better than anyone else at school was ride. I think it’s really important to have something that you know you’re good at, whether that’s riding, art or drama. It doesn’t have to be the most practical skill in the world. Just something you can take pride in.
There’s a misconception that horse riding is only for a certain section of society. That’s not the case. You don’t have to come from a horsey family, or live in a rural area to benefit from all the wonderful things that horses can bring to your life.
Horse-riding can be accessible to anyone and everyone. In addition to the pleasure it brings, there’s also a strong element of physical and mental therapy being around horses. They make you feel calmer.
The Riding for the Disabled Association is a charity that’s close to my heart and I try to help as much as I can. The organisation gives people with limited movement the opportunity to feel full movement on a horse. It gives children with disabilities access to therapeutic interaction with horses in a safe and supportive environment.
It gives them a chance to take part in a mainstream sport that helps improve their physical and social wellbeing. It’s great to see and can be hugely rewarding for everyone involved.
So, when I heard that the young riders at the RDA Carlisle centre were in desperate need of a horse, after theirs sadly died, I jumped at the chance to help them find a replacement, thanks to support from The Supporters Club.
The Supporters Club is using the power of sport and teamwork to change the lives of young people here in the UK and all over the world, thanks to donation made by BT Sport viewers. One of the charities that is benefiting from this support is the RDA, and in addition to the happiness and confidence horse riding brings, many disabled children benefit physically from the associated development of muscle tone, balance and coordination. It really is a brilliant organisation.
Before I began my search I spoke to some of the riders who need the horse to find out what riding means to them. We met at the stables of Paralympian legend and gold medallist rider, Lee Pearson.
Seeing the sheer joy on their faces and watching the way they responded to his horse. That’s why the RDA is so important. Talking to them I understood the hugely positive difference horse-riding makes to their lives.
Lee really inspired the group. It was great for them to see a rider of his quality, as it gives them someone to aspire to.
I also got straight from the horse’s mouth, what makes a great horse for disabled riders. Lee gave me a list of all the qualities I should be on the look out for, such as a gentle temperament. He was very helpful.
As a child I always dreamt of competing in the Olympics, but I stopped riding regularly when I was 22 to pursue my TV career.
I have to say though, that helping to present London 2012 and watching team GB win three gold medals in equestrian, two in dressage and one in show jumping was just fantastic.
I’d love to take up riding again in the future, when I have a bit more time.
After a couple of false starts in what was an emotional and nail-biting search for the perfect horse, I finally found Nutmeg, a beautiful and gentle natured horse not far from the RDA centre in Carlisle.
Seeing the children’s faces light up when I brought her out of the horsebox, and witnessing how well she responded to them, couldn’t have given me more pleasure.
Finding them the right horse was a wonderful experience, and I know she will enrich all of their lives. I’d put money on it!