Our local branch of Riding for the Disabled (the "South Downs") is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It was a pleasure to visit them earlier in the summer at their base, Bridge House Equestrian centre near Slinfold. Riding for the Disabled is totally reliant on volunteers - nearly 20,000 across the U.K. They are completely self-funded and dependent on horse and pony owners making them available to other riders - which locally they generorously do twice a week to enable the thriving group to provide a hugely rewarding opportunity to disabled riders.
For many who choose to participate in the RDA it is in order to experience the enjoyment of riding - the challenge of working together with a horse in a broad range of equestrian activities from simply riding out to the complexities of dressage. However speaking to participants it is very clear that for many being in the saddle provides welcome mobility and independence. Seeing riders who have disabilities that would, to my mind, make getting on horse thoroughly scarey riding competitive courses in the ring unaided was deeply impressive.
What I hadn't appreciated is aside from the "fun" of riding participants can be referred by their doctor or physiotherapist to the RDA because the benefits of riding are so wide-ranging. A key therapeutic factor in the RDA is the movement of the horse - the charity describes itself as "physiotherapy on the move". The warmth and movement of the horse combines to help the rider relax and strengthen core muscles. As one participant put it "who wants to sit on a bouncy ball in a physiotherapy room when you can sit in a horse and achieve the same things without realising it!"
Research suggests that 80 per cent of children riding with the RDA for a term experienced physical improvement and an even greater proportion a boost in confidence and enjoyment.
The local team runs three sessions on a Thursday and further activities on Tuesdays. To help the local branch no equine experience is necessary and all details can be found at www.southdownsrda.org.
Photo caption: On a recent visit to South Downs RDA at Slinfold - the local branch celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year.