This week’s blog post features horse rider and animal enthusiast James Lovatt. James didn’t discover his ADHD until later in life, but it was this realisation that opened a door to not only healing, but self discovery.
Discretion is advised for readers of this blog post as James’s story touches upon the topic of vulnerability and grooming in sport. If on reading this story you would like to reach out for help or advice, we recommend approaching either Sport Integrity or Crimestoppers.
Sport Integrity is a three-year pilot project that has been developed to support National Governing Bodies to deliver their responsibilities for upholding conduct in their sports [see the Whyte Review].
Individuals can raise a concern regarding any of the following issues; bullying, harassment, discrimination, abuse (verbal and physical), sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, victimisation and breach of an applicable policy.
Crimestoppers is an independent charity giving people the power to speak up to stop crime, 100% anonymously. You can contact them by phone and online, 24/7, 365 days a year.
James was a self-admittedly awkward child, but being from a military family, circumstances forced him to learn to make friends. If it wasn’t for his upbringing, there’s every chance he would have been bullied for being ‘weird’. He felt most comfortable hanging out at games workshops and playing Warhammer – partly because the people were more understanding and accepting, but also because he was drawn to the strategic and tactical challenges of playing - they kept his brain positively stimulated.
The same couldn’t be said for his experience of sport at school, which was (like many schools) largely confined to rugby. According to James, if he wasn’t being “smashed around” he was falling asleep! The stereotypical preconception of ADHD is the kid who can’t sit still - and although this is the case for some - for others it’s an inability to regulate attention that can swing both ways. Understimulation can be as detrimental as overstimulation. Standing at the bottom of a pitch waiting for a ball… is very understimulating.
Having to sit down in the classroom all day was also pretty understimulating. For James it led to a vicious cycle of poor sleep, reduced energy, reduced capacity and reduced executive functioning. He staved off bullying from his peers, but in retrospect was in effect bullied by his teachers - earning the nickname ‘late again Lovatt’ for his inability to turn up to lessons on time. On speaking to James, you can tell immediately that he’s a pretty intelligent guy, and yet he left school with minimal GCSEs (two Cs in science being his best grades), a ‘lazy’ label and an intense feeling of shame. Especially when pitched against his high achieving sisters.
James’ dad was in the army, so from a young age he was familiarised with horses and stables, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that he became hyper-fixated on riding. For three years after his GCSEs, nothing else mattered. James' ambition was to be the next Mark Todd, but this was an unlikely prospect given his background. James’ family weren’t poor, but to make it as an elite horse rider, a very very large amount of money is required… there aren’t many people in the UK with that privilege. If James was going to make it he would need a sponsor.
Abuse of power
James took on as many jobs in as many stables as he could, trying to earn money and make connections. One summer a man started talking to him and offered him riding lessons on his horses. This man made himself out to be a significant individual on the equestrian circuit. He was also a chiropractor.
I’m not going to divulge the details of what ensued, but I would like to highlight some key factors that make neurodivergent individuals particularly prone to abuse in sport.
They’ve often, like James, suffered years of dealing with unseen barriers, bullying and/or unfair treatment. Their self-talk as a result…
“Maybe I invited this…
Maybe I was asking for it…
Because after all, I am weird.”
To add to this were the socio-environmental pressure James felt to prescribe to a certain doctrine; to be a man, to provide for others, and to not be a burden. His self-talk…
“Suck it up.
Tell no one.
I’m the problem.”
Finally, James needed sponsorship to ride...
He needed sponsorship to achieve his dreams.
What did this teach him?
“I can’t afford to speak up.”
How did it end?
Fortunately for James, leaving for University put an end to the abuse he was suffering. The geographical distance gave him space to reflect and to build his self confidence back up.
Unfortunately it temporarily put an end to his dreams of becoming a professional horse rider.
In his 20s and 30s, James put his talents to use in sales. Regardless of the barriers and trauma he had faced, he emerged as an energetic and enthusiastic ‘people person’, but the healing didn’t really start until he recognised and addressed his neurodivergence.
This revelation came as a result of his work with Dr Elizabeth Guest and her organisation Aspiedent, In helping others understand and embrace their neurodivergence, he recognised it in himself. James finally took the time to drop his mask and truly reflect. This wasn’t easy though and it’s been an ongoing effort since - a battle with himself to stop putting the needs of others before his own.
Altruism might seem like a positive trait from the outside, but when it serves not only to keep others happy, but to keep them at arm's length too, it can be incredibly isolating… this has been James’s experience.
Exploring the past in the context of his neurodivergence has allowed James to make sense, to forgive himself and to rid himself of the shame that’s plagued him for most of his life. Ensuing opportunities to work within the realm of neurodiversity awareness, education and intervention, have provided him with an opportunity to positively influence the lives of others, and his current mission is to address the significantly high rate of suicide associated with neurodivergence in the veterinary industry.
On a personal level, James is now married to his wife Jemma and owns his very own horses - Boris and Maizey. He rides and competes at various equestrian competitions in the Yorkshire area focusing on show jumping and dressage.
If you’d like to reach out to James about his work, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.
A little bit of Boris to end on a lighter note...