A special feature with Angela Lyons Para Equestrian Rider

A special feature with Angela Lyons Para Equestrian Rider

This Friday, we are running our first ever online event here at Equitas. Our event is part of International Women's Day 2024 with the theme of #InspiringInclusion.

It is also the year of the Paralympics. And we have 2 incredible para equestrians joining us to give a talk on their journey at our event. They are both vying for a place on the Irish team heading to the Paralympics. Only 4 can be picked for the team and there are up to 10 riders competing for places.

Last night I interviewed both Angela and Heather Lemmon Kiely (Our second speaker on Friday) on a livestream to chat about their journey and the aspirations this year. They talked about the route ahead, the events they have to compete in to be considered and the struggle they have both faced to get sponsorship.

As part our commitment to #InspiringInclusion and supporting our community, we felt we had to support these two powerhouses on their journey. We wanted to give them both a platform to get their message and story out there so this feature is part of that support.

First up, we have Angela Lyons and Tommy. What a journey they have been on. Team Tommy is a thing and they have had some great results especially in freestyle. As Angela said last night, it is where her and Tommy get to show their personality. Now lets jump into the special feature and get to know Angela and Tommy a bit better.

Before we start, if there are any business owners, entrepreneurs or high-net-worth individuals reading this and they want to support some exceptional riders to achieve their dreams and that are backed by a media brand giving them pretty much unlimited coverage - THIS IS YOUR CHANCE. We are currently only providing this media partnership to Angela and Heather.

I'm Angela Lyons,  a dressage and Para Equestrian Rider from Blarney in Cork.  I describe myself as a Creaky Equestrian and Dressage Lover. 

It all started long, long  ago and far , far away in Castletownbere in West Cork. My introduction to riding was Sally the Donkey. She never moved, literally never moved so I was quite safe as a little girl, astride my trusty Donkey, imagining I was on the Irish Aga Khan Team. I didn't dream of dressage then, as dressage didn't really exist very much in Ireland back then. I did upgrade from Sally to a Shetland pony. And as everyone knows Shetlands definitely teach you about ups and downs……. lots of downs!

As a teenager I showjumped to quite a high level. Grade As in 138cms and 148cms, with ponies that I would have brought up through the levels. 

It was showjumping that I had my accident. A mis - stride causing the pony to hit the top pole and nose dived to the ground, I went over her head but landed  on the pole. Health and safety wasn't a very big thing in the 80s, so I was told “get up, you're grand, nothing broken". I couldn't get up so was lifted off the ground, bundled into a car and off to CUH  Cork.  There it was discovered I had broken the ball off my Ball and Socket Hip joint, broken the socket and top of the femur…not one for half measures.

I did get back showjumping after about 12 months and went on to ride at the RDS and Millstreet.

Later in life I finally got in “Dressage”, I started on my 4yr old Connemara,  another pony that reminded me horses had a mind of their own. But I loved every minute and Dressage was my sport from then on. With hope in my heart and a Credit Union Loan  I headed off to Holland  to buy  a small schoolmaster. Fate had other ideas and I came home with Rio (Latino J), a five year old, just castrated,  17.2 Piebald. He was the best, he thought me everything and we went from Young Horse Classes to Prix St George. We won many National Championships at different levels, Freestyle being our strongest. 

Then along comes Tommy!

What drew you to horse riding, and how has it impacted your life?

The love of horses firstly and I love the competition side too. Horses have impacted my life mostly for the good, financially and injury wise not so good. 

They give me purpose, at my lowest lying in bed and couldn't walk, I had a picture of Rio there. Seeing pushed me to get back. The goal Setting really helped me too. From little ones of just getting as far as the stable, to getting back on ,to getting back out competing. 

I'm a stronger person because of them, you fall 9 times, you get up 10! These days I try limit my falling because getting back up is definitely more difficult.

Could you tell us about the horse you ride? What is their name, breed, and personality like?

He is a Hannovarian by Sandro Hit. He is extremely talented and obstinate in equal measures.  Tommy is definitely the Main Character and I'm just in a supporting role. He is super sweet and loveable but he can really test you at times.

How is your relationship? And what makes your connection special?

We have had this journey together. I had him since he was 5 he's now 16. I missed a few years with my medical issues. He is definitely the most talented horse I ever had but also the most complicated. If Tommy could live by his good looks and not do any work, that would just suit him fine.

He is enjoying the more advanced dressage so we have aspirations to ride Advanced or Prix St George this year. If I don't get a green jacket, I'll aim for a tailcoat.

How did you and your horse meet, and what was your initial impression of each other?

In this modern age how else do you meet the love of your life… online! I saw his ad and it was love at first sight. I went to the UK  with a great friend and trusty Credit Union loan to see him. I was love at first sight for me, Tommy not so much.

Can you describe a particularly memorable moment or achievement you've shared with your horse?

My favourite memory to date is winning  2 Freestyle championships at the 2022 Nationals. We were on fire that weekend and everything just fell into place.

You’re an equestrian with a disability, tell us about it and how it impacts your life?

I broke my hip and femur, as a teenager. Unfortunately the hip degenerated and I needed a hip replacement in 2004. Things did not go well!

Surgery was a bit more complicated that they expected. I ended up with a torn Tibial nerve and internally rotated leg. This is the one I didn't think I'd come back from. I couldn't use my leg, I couldn't touch it, wear a sock or shoe. My foot had turned purple and curled up. The pain level was off the charts. It took a few years to come back from that, I didn't think I would. I used goal Setting to give me purpose and aims to achieve each day. Some days it was just standing up… but we got there..

To add insult to injury I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2014 which affects most of my joints, my eyes and also gives me chronic fatigue. 

Everyday you find a way to do what you need to do, some days are harder than others. Equestrians would call it Dedication, other people would call it Madness.

Competing at any level requires dedication and resilience. What motivates you to keep going, especially on tough days?

What motivates me most is the memory of not being able to ride. It can be taken from you so fast. I worked so hard to get back and remind myself of this constantly. Having the right support around is also invaluable. Some days you need a helping hand other days you need a kick in the behind. 

What are your aspirations?

I would love to get  to a Paralympics. But also I would like to go up as many levels in Dressage with Tommy as possible. My disease is progressive and it has already taken some of my riding abilities and strength. 

I want to keep riding and competing as long as my body will let me.

What matters most to you in life?

Loving and laughing. Loving my husband and friends, loving animals especially my horses and dogs. Loving the feeling of harmony, power and unity when riding the horse you love. Laughing, I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh or smile.

If you could compete anywhere in the world, where and why?

I would love to compete at the Paralympics Paris or even Los Angeles. (Los Angeles would make a great holiday). Seriously though, it would be an honour to compete at Paris.  The pinnacle of a journey myself and Tommy have taken. 

To be selected to compete against the world's best  with so much support from back home. The little girl from years back riding Sally the Donkey, would never believe it.

Who has been your biggest inspiration or support in your equestrian journey?

Definitely my ever suffering husband Steve.  He's been through all the highs and lows with me. My trainers Anne Marie Dunphy and Tara Oliver Donohoe who have got us this far and not thrown in the towel. I am surrounded by very supportive people.

How do you communicate with your horse, and how has your relationship evolved over time?

As a Para Equestrian Rider I have some compensatory aides… to level the playing field you might say.

I have 2 whips to back up my leg aids, I have a Velcro Strap from my stirrup to the girth to keep my leg still. I recently started using loop reins (like large joiners for a Pelham, with loops of leather I can hold). It took me a while to believe I needed them but now wonder why I didn't sooner, they are a game changer for me. Finally I have a raised neck strap, often called a Jesus Strap. Mine is so big it's more like a Jesus, Mary and Joseph strap!

Training with a disability presents unique challenges. How do you adapt your training routines to accommodate your needs?

I went through my Compensatory Aids above and usually training depends on how I feel that day. Sometimes you can push through and other times just go on a hack. Trying not to be too hard on yourself on the bad days. I have a good training  plan so we must trust the process. Neither Tommy or myself are robots so some days  just need to be easier.

What do you wish more people understood about equestrian sports, especially for riders with disabilities?

I would be great if people understood the high level of dressage competition involved in Para Equestrian dressage. It is judged under the same principles as Dressage and the judges do not take pity on the riders.

The Paralympics is a prestigious platform for athletes with disabilities. What would competing in the Paralympics mean to you?

It would be unbelievable.  To be there with Ireland's best against the world's best.  
A showcase of equestrian talent and an inspiration to other riders that you can chase your dreams. 

How are you preparing for the possibility of competing in the Paralympics, both mentally and physically? What is the pathway to get there?

With my trainers we are working on improving Tommy's way of going. 

I have been doing test practice, trying to polish up the required tests. I've been  getting myself fitter and stronger but have to do this very carefully. Tommy has had his vet check, pre season make over and is ready to go.

I've had physio, doctors appointments and badly need a makeover but am also ready to go. There is a lot of mental stress in planning the trip and of course  fundraising!

The criteria to qualify is to attend a minimum of 2 international events. One must be in Europe. Our first is Addington, in the UK coming up very fast in March. Then hopefully Waragem in Belgium and we will see how results and finances are after that.

This must be a costly endeavour, are there challenges to funding this opportunity? Have you sponsors on board or are you looking for sponsors?

I am very lucky to be sponsored for Tommy's feed by Bluegrass Horse Feeds.  Mervue.ie, a Cork based supplement company are also great for anything we need in that department. I am currently fund raising with  a Gofundme page and am so thankful to everyone who donated. 
I would of course love a sponsor or sponsors to come on this journey with Team Tommy and help towards some costs. We have the support of your team at Equitas to make sure any sponsors that come on board will get a lot of media coverage so they are getting a return on their sponsorship.
Or if there are any big racing yards or transport companies who could absorb our ferry costs with their own that would be amazing. 

How can people or brands support your journey?

I have a Gofundme page.  Just Google Angela Lyons GoFundMe and up I'll pop.

Any support would be greatly appreciated and of course I would be happy to give back to any brand who takes an interest in our journey. 

My email is angela.lyons7474@gmail.com 

If anyone would like to get in touch or maybe you know someone who might be interested in helping.


Angela will be one of our #InspiringInclusion guest speakers at our #IWD2024 event this Friday on Zoom. We can't wait to hear more about her journey and how she is feeling about her and Tommy potentially being one of the final 4.

Personally, I think Angela and Tommy are a fantastic duo with an amazing story and incredible potential. I hope potential sponsors reading this see the honesty, the openness, the fun and the positivity that radiates from you. I hope you get there Angela and that you get the financial support you need to give yourself and Tommy the best crack at representing Ireland at the Paralympics.

To get your Ticket to our Event on Friday drop Sarah an email on Sarah@Equitas.ie

Until next time,




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Shane McCarthy

Shane McCarthy

Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do!! I'm the co-founder and ceo of The Grassroots Gazette and Equitas. Be relentless in the pursuit of Excellence.