A “heartbroken” parent claims their teenage daughter was refused a horse riding lesson because her autism was too severe.
Mum-of-three Cassie Lee, says her daughter Maddie, 14, was turned down due to her child’s additional needs from a school.
Cassie revealed her pain following a conversation with a member of staff at the riding school who questioned “how bad” her daughter’s autism was, before refusing the booking.
The mum claims the alleged incident is a sad reminder that people with disabilities are “still not treated equally”.
However, Sychdyn Riding School, based in Flintshire, told North Wales Live it was necessary to ask about Maddie’s condition prior to the session, due to insurance concerns to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
A spokesperson for the school, based near Mold, added: “We have to consider everyone’s safety, there’s protocol we have to follow, and if people have different needs we have to factor that in, we don’t want to put anyone at risk .
“We’ve never come up against this in all the years. We’re not discriminating, we’re just sticking to within the law.”
But Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said they should have made “reasonable adjustments” to ensure Maddie could ride.
Cassie insisted the incident was “direct discrimination” and viewed the refusal to take the booking as a “lack of empathy for people with special needs”.
Cassie added: “I’m heartbroken, if I’m honest. I’m hurt because I’ve had to watch my little girl upset because she couldn’t go, just because she’s autistic.
“People these days say people with autism are accepted but we face struggles every day and no one sees that side of things.
“It’s really upsetting that people just write her off because everyone who knows Maddie loves her and knows how great she is, people on the street say ‘hiya’ to her before me because she’s so popular.”
Maddie’s autism means she communicates and expresses her emotions differently to others, but Cassie said this shouldn’t stop her from doing things other children get to do. It was during a phone call that Cassie claimed Maddie was discriminated against.
She said staff at the riding school were initially happy to take the booking when Maddie’s dad, Danny Brockley, called them on Wednesday March 23, but things changed, she claimed, when they became aware of Maddie’s needs.
Cassie said: “Maddie’s dad called up first and spoke to someone and it was all fine but when he mentioned she had autism they said they couldn’t do it.
“They said it should be no problem until he explained that Maddie has autism and she might get excited when she sees the horses, and then they said she couldn’t come.
“Maddie stims which means she flaps her arms and makes noises when she gets excited but that’s just how she reacts and she shouldn’t be treated differently to anyone else.”
Cassie said she and her partner explained to staff at the equestrian center that Cassie’s stimming was “just the way she is” and that she would calm down when she was riding, but claims they were told they wouldn’t be able to go ahead with the booking.
Cassie said: “What upset me the most was how dismissive they were, it’s like they heard the word autism and made their minds up.
“They kept asking ‘how bad is it? How bad is her autism from her?, ‘But it’s not bad, autism is n’t something bad it’s just different. I just want my little girl to be able to do what she enjoys.”
Cassie added: “I wouldn’t put her on a horse if it wasn’t safe, we tried to explain to them that she would be fine. Ella she’s been horse riding in Sychdyn before and there were no problems.
Sychdyn Riding School told Maddie’s family that they needed different insurance to work with Maddie safely, and recommended Clwyd Special Riding Centre, which specializes in riding for people with additional needs.
A spokesperson said: “We’re just trying to stick within the rules that have been given to us, and there are places available which are specifically set up for people with different needs.”
Cassie said: “They did come back after and explain to me about the insurance, but the thing that hurt me was the way they approached it, because it felt like she was just being told no because of her autism.
“In this day and age, people who were born with disabilities are still not treated the same and not able to do the same things as other people.”
She added: “We have spoken to other parents with ASD and did consider others but we ended up going to a riding school in Flintshire, which doesn’t specialize in disabilities. I’m glad we found a school who understood her.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at leading equality charity DR UK claimed the riding school’s actions: “The Equality Act is clear that reasonable adjustments must be made for people with disabilities.
“Laws have been in place for over 25 years to allow disabled people to take part in mainstream activities with non-disabled people. It would appear that Maddie has no additional needs that require anything more than a little time for her to adjust to being around the horses.
“All the riding school needed to do was to adopt a can-do attitude and let her ride the horse,” she said.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.