Any 11-year-old boy who loves ponies might fantasise about riding at the Royal International at Hickstead, and for any child to qualify is an achievement.
But for Leo Selcon-Park, who qualified in his British Skewbald and Piebald Association section at Keysoe, it is even more special. Leo has autism and struggles with day-to-day tasks as well as social interaction.
“Leo is still unable to do up buttons, he struggles to articulate situations and his behaviour is learned not conditioned,” explained his mother, Jade Park-Ross.
“Unfortunately, he is becoming more aware that he is different from other children as they don’t want to play with him.”
Leo started riding two years ago on a 13.2hh called Moley, but when he kept falling off, he informed his mother that he needed a smaller mount so he didn’t fall quite so far.
Enter Southhill Farm Toy Boy (Toby), a skewbald 12hh show hunter pony. “Toby is Leo’s best friend,” said Park-Ross. “Leo often has problems that he cannot solve at school and that he cannot communicate to adults. If he has had a particularly bad day, he will ask to ride Toby, and I will then find him hugging and confiding in his pony. Somehow, Toby seems to understand Leo and will stand stock still until Leo is ready to go again. They have a rare understanding of each other.”
As well as qualifying at Keysoe, Leo and Toby stood second reserve, which is impressive considering that they were competing against adults.
“Leo’s dream is to ride at Hickstead,” said Park-Ross. “He has no idea of what Hickstead is, he just knows that his aunty (Georgie Crumley), a show jumper, will be competing there and that’s really cool to him. Now he has gone and qualified all on his own.”
It is well known that animals, especially horses and ponies, can help children with autism or special needs, and little Leo seems to have found his forte with his show-ring star.
Images courtesy of Jade Park-Ross