Top rider shares an inspiring journey of personal growth

Kevin Van Ham has seen a rapid rise in equestrian sports.
Belgian rider Kevin Van Ham has seen a rapid rise in equestrian sport. © FEI/Kevin van Ham (Instagram)

The latest edition of the FEI Para Equestrian Digest tells the story of a Belgian rider who loved horses as a child but “would have a panic attack if he got too close.”

Since those days, Kevin Van Ham, 33, has seen a rapid rise in equestrian sport, competing in regional competitions and always in dressage for the able-bodied until about five years ago when he discovered para-equestrian.

The digest tells his story of learning to ride with a disability and growing up as an LGBTQ+ person.

Van Ham was born with a disability: “I’m missing a piece of my left arm up to the elbow and I don’t have a left hand because before I was born the umbilical cord got stuck around my arm and holding it. from development. They didn’t pick up the problem on the ultrasound.”

He said it was difficult to find ways that best suited him to ride a horse. “I’ve tried so many things and tested the reins used by other riders – I’m still looking for the best solution. At the moment I go with a looped bridle for the single bridle and for the double I have a kind of ladder that connects both bridles together. I am learning so much in the Para Equestrian scene and everyone is so supportive,” he said.

He only found out about Para Dressage five years ago. “One day someone came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you go to Para Dressage?’ So, I went home and started looking up what it was, how big it was in Belgium and how to get involved. I also wondered if I was good enough to be accepted in that world.”

From then on, Van Ham never looked back. He achieved three top-5 finishes at the 2019 FEI European Championships and fourth and seventh places at the recent FEI Para Dressage World Championships in Herning. He describes taking part in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics as “beyond my wildest dreams”, with Paris 2024 a major target.

Van Ham envisions a full-time career with horses alongside her other full-time career in retail. His partner, Jeffrey, is also involved with horses, “so that makes the equestrian lifestyle easier sometimes.”

Growing up as a gay person wasn’t easy, he says, but “I never felt out of place in the equestrian community. For me personally, the equestrian community has given me comfort and being able to be who I am without anyone disagreeing.”

“I think equestrians can be such a positive influence on young people and that’s something I embrace. It is very important to be a role model for other people. I really enjoy helping people find their way in life or in their quest to discover who they are inside.

“It makes me happy when people come up to me and tell me that their son or daughter or even themselves admire me and think I’m an inspiration to them. It makes me more willing to always be myself.”

» Read more in the latest FEI Para Equestrian Digest.

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