On May 17th 2010, Richard Neumann, a professional rugby player was told he’d never walk again after injuring himself during his last International Honours. Fast forward to today and that same professional rugby player is now not only walking but is now a para-dressage rider who before COVID-19 took hold, had been asked to ride for the England Team for the home international. Here’s what Richard had to say when we caught up with him during some down time.
Jenni - Hi Richard, thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us. I think it’s safe to say that with boxing, rugby and now dressage under your belt, you’re quite the sportsman!?
Richard - Hi, I have always been involved in sport, at school I played cricket, rugby, swam and did athletics. Never really got involved in football as it wasn’t my thing but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been lucky to have had some amazing teachers and coaches which I think helps.
J - Could you tell us a little about your injury and how it happened?
R - It happened whilst on international duty. I dislocated my hip. It went septic and it was a bit touch and go for a while. After my first operation, they removed my colon as it was damaged beyond repair, this left me with my right leg 40% weaker than the left, due to nerve damage and compromising my core. My second and third were to repair damage once the swelling and my body had done all it could to repair. That was hopefully my last operation.
J - You spent a lot of time in a wheelchair following your accident. In fact it was 6 days short of a year before you took your first step unaided. How did you deal with that mentally?
R - I must admit the mental side has taken longer than the physical to overcome and I still get the occasional wobble now and then. I think after the initial shock of what happened I just set myself goals. My frustration surrounded the fact that my mind wanted to do things but my body wouldn’t play ball. I think being told you may never walk again was a driver for the simple fact that I’ve never really liked being told what to do. Overall though, my rehabilitation is an ongoing thing.
J - Do you think the fact that you were such an active person before the accident had a lot to do with you being so determined to walk or was it a real mix of body and mind?
R - There were a lot of contributing factors, my state of mind and determination was one; having people around you who support and encourage you is massive, everyone has bad days, I was incredibly lucky to have these people who helped make it happen. I think with the right direction you can achieve anything, just sometimes you need someone to guide you.
J - Now not only are you walking, but your riding! Many would say the jump from rugby to dressage to be quite a leap but you’ve said in previous interviews that you wanted to do something that benefit you and your recovery. How does dressage help since your injury and subsequent surgeries?
R - Riding helps me with my core control, balance and using my body. Helping me keep my upper body and hands quiet and still and my legs still but allowing my waist to move with the horse, all my surgeries have gone through my stomach wall, riding allows me to work at repairing that damage. And yes Rugby and Boxing are all about aggression, strength, intimidation and power. Riding is about cooperation, listening, empathy and strength both physically and mentally.
J - From never being able to walk again to running 10 miles three times a week and taking part in some pretty intense personal training sessions; you’re a walking (and riding) miracle. Do you have a different attitude to your training sessions since your injury? A new appreciation perhaps?
R - Training has always been a massive part of my life. It enables you to achieve your ambitions, my attitude and reasons haven’t changed however, the methods have changed considerably. I now train for different outcomes but similar (if that makes sense?). I am very fortunate to do what I do and take nothing for granted, I have amazing people who support me and put up with me, my frustration sometimes does become more visible, having the opportunity to compete again is one you can never underestimate.
J - What sort of training sessions do you put yourself through and how do they help you with your riding and recovery in general?
R - My training sessions are broken into three areas. I do a lot of rowing and fast twitch muscle training, which helps with general fitness both physical and mental. This is high intensity and lasts for about 30-35 mins. Then I do strength training; this is low weights and high repartitions normally lasting 40-45 mins followed by stability and coordination training consisting of a lot of small weights, tennis balls and a Swiss ball. This lasts for around 30-35 mins. I train frequently, taking part in morning, midday and evening sessions. I use a micro, macro, and mezzo system, with the peak on competition days. Funnily enough, Otto has a similar regime but without the weights.
J - Could you tell us about your current competition horse Otto? How you met and your relationship?
R - Otto, wow how did we meet? Echo had just been signed off for a year (now retired) and my coach knew a lady selling a horse who was interested in me having him. The first time I rode him he had me off, but unperturbed I went back the following week and we got on a little better so I had him on a week’s trial. We had a few conversations; Otto had an opinion about everything, he had a big ego, lots of character and attitude but we understood each other, so we decided to have him, the lady basically gave him to me. We are developing a partnership and he has without a doubt made me a better rider. He lets me know when he is not happy. Otto is a very talkative horse and easy to communicate with, a very honest horse once you get to know him. During this isolation period the relationship has blossomed and he follows me around the field now when I am poo picking, trying to help.
J - COVID-19 has put a stop to all competing, but what were your ambitions for this year? Have they changed since lockdown? Or do you still have your sights set on a particular goal?
R - Yes this has been and still is frustrating but it’s the same for everyone. We were going to be part of the England team for the home international, the first step to international honours. This is still an ambition and as we were asked to apply I cannot see us not being asked again. We are looking for Jan/Feb championships after the lockdown is over. We will have 6-8 weeks of training to get him fit enough for competition before we can start the campaign, so I believe Jan 21 is achievable and a great way to start 2021.
J - As a male in what can be a very female dominated sport (especially at grass roots), what do you think the biggest hurdles are for men within the equestrian industry?
R - I think the biggest hurdle I have found is inclusion. I have always trained on my own apart from my coach. At competition, it’s just Otto and I in the arena so that’s great but at the yard, most of the social events are geared towards females. In Rugby, the social side is a big part of the game so I do miss that. Also getting boots to fit as I’m a size 13, oh and jackets too.
J - Here at Vivendi, we have a range of clothing but our compression wear is very much at the heart of what we do. It aids blood flow, helps with inflammation and aids recovery. Have you used compression wear yourself and if so, how have you found it to be of benefit for you?
R - Yes the shirt I played in was a compression shirt and it helped with impact injuries. ‘RICE’ was always and still is an injury prevention and rehab system (REST, ICE, COMPRESSION, ELEVATION). I use compression suits for training as they make the session more efficient and can help prevent injuries. Great believer in compression wear because it works.
J - What are your best top tips for clothing brands such as ourselves when focusing on male specific clothing? What would you like to see?
R - I think concentrating on functionality more than fashion; however I do understand that it is more commercial to be fashionable. However, when you rationalise the functionality for fashion it’s a problem.
J - Who are your current idols or riders you look up to or want to emulate?
R - The combination I respect and admire the most is Edward Gal and Totilas. No one has come close to them in my opinion. Carl Hester is an amazing horseman and competitor. Natasha Baker is an inspiration and Conrad Schumacher is an inspiring coach.
Richard Neumann isn’t just an inspiration, the man is a walking, riding miracle. We couldn’t be prouder to have him as a brand ambassador for Vivendi and have our sights set firmly on January 2021 for him and of course, the amazing Otto when they represent their country with pride. If you’d like to find out more about Richard and Otto and their incredible journey ahead, get following Richard on his Instagram page today.