Linda's beach dream comes true

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 April 2013

Linda Hobart tested out a unique invention which allowed her to access Exmouth beach without leaving her wheel chair. Wheel chair chariot inventor, Simon Mulholland, took Linda for a pony ride in the specially adapted trap. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref exe 4586-42-12AW. To order your copy of this photograph, go to www.exmouthjournal.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Linda Hobart tested out a unique invention which allowed her to access Exmouth beach without leaving her wheel chair. Wheel chair chariot inventor, Simon Mulholland, took Linda for a pony ride in the specially adapted trap. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref exe 4586-42-12AW. To order your copy of this photograph, go to www.exmouthjournal.co.uk and click on myphotos24

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For the last 13 years MS sufferer Linda Hobart has been unable to access Exmouth beach, until she felt 'freedom and joy' thanks to pony Obama and his owner, Simon Mulholland.

For years Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Linda Hobart had only been able to watch at a distance as others enjoyed Exmouth beach.

Because it’s on our doorstep, most of us take for granted a trip to the beach, walking on the sand, paddling in the sea – but not Linda, 65, of Trefusis Terrace, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

For the last 13 years, Linda had only been able to dream about spending time on Exmouth beach. Taking her grandchildren to play on the sand, exploring the rock pools and paddling in the shallows had been a far-off dream.

Because standard wheelchairs are almost impossible to push on sand, Linda could only watch from the pavement above as her grandchildren played on the beach below with her husband of 32 years, Mike.

That was until a chance sighting by Mike, 70, who was out for a walk on Exmouth beach, when he spotted Simon Mulholland, 57, with his pony, Obama, pulling a chariot across the sand.

Intrigued, Mike flagged Simon down and asked him about his invention. Simon explained it enabled wheelchair-users to safely access the beach - his ethos is that everyone can have access with and to ponies, anywhere.

No longer was Linda banished to miss out on beach fun - Mike quickly arranged his wife’s first trip onto the sand for more than a decade with the help of Simon and Obama.

Horse lover Linda had previously ridden with Riding for the Disabled – a hobby she loved until the MS robbed her of her strength to pull herself onto her mount.

Settling Linda and her wheelchair onto the chariot at the Harbour View Cafe slipway, soon she was enjoying a taste of freedom felt only by horse riders.

Because Simon’s specially-designed chariot has an instant release mechanism, Linda was able to drive the pony along the sand without any fear.

Not only has Simon designed a remote control, meaning he can step in and steer or stop the pony if need be, his invention enables disabled people to be in complete charge of the chariot.

With just one pull of the rope, the instant safety mechanism releases the whole chariot from the pony in one smooth motion.

Linda, who has suffered with MS for 20 years, said it was ‘fabulous’ to get involved instead of watching from a distance. She said she often felt ‘marginalised’ by the wheelchair.

Linda said: “Increasing immobility often seems like a prison, so an hour on the beach with Obama - sun sparkling on the sea, water lapping round my wheels - lifted my spirits sky high. I felt freedom and joy.

“I thank God for Simon. He has such a heart to encourage the weak. I hope many others will be able to share this amazing experience. The quick-release system made me feel very safe. Clearly Simon has great sensitivity to the needs of the disabled.

“We rode up to Orcombe Point for a whole hour and into the sea three times. It was such a thrill. It was the next best thing to riding a pony on the beach. “The whole experience was beautiful.

“It was fabulous get a life instead of watching from a distance. So many people kept stopping. He’s a real object of interest.

“It was so lovely, just connecting with more people. You often can feel marginalised when you’re in a wheelchair.”

Linda said Obama and his fully-insured chariot could also benefit older people who could not reach the beach because of mobility problems.

Simon can also arrange trips to Dartmoor and Haldon Forest – and other off-limits places to wheelchair users.

Simon said the places Obama can travel with awheelchair on board were ‘endless’.

“He’s totally awesome. He can do anything, that’s why I called him Obama,” said Simon. “There’s so much fun people can have.”

Simon is keen to show others just what fun can be had with his chariot and Obama on the beach. While he and Obama already work with a number of local schools and children with special needs, Simon is keen to get a group of people together who have previously been unable to enjoy the beach because of mobility problems, and invite them to Exmouth.

l For more information, contact Simon on 44 7510 736 518. Learn more about Simon and Obama at: www.ponyaccess.com or read their blog at: www.saddlechariot.blogspot.co.uk

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