Volunteering with Riding for the Disabled AssociationEvery Tuesday during term time I head to our local riding stables to volunteer with the RDA, and it is something that I look forward to every week. For those not familiar with the fantastic work of Riding For The Disabled, it is a charity that has over 500 centres all over the UK. Their horses enrich the lives of over 25,000 adults and children and support those with physical, learning and sensory disabilities, as well as autism and multi-disabilities. The physical therapy that riding provides, improves fitness, muscle strength, balance and coordination, benefiting core strength and mobility. Beyond the physical, RDA activities also help communication, confidence, well-being and relationship building. They are this the charity is celebrating it’s 50th year.. Our first task as a volunteers on a Tuesday morning involves adding a few different pieces of special tack to the horses and ponies in preparation of the rides. There are special stirrups called daps and these allow for the feet to stay more securely in them. We also add reins that have different colours on them, so that we can ask a rider to hold the reins on a particular colour. A strap is added to the saddle, for extra stability if needed particularly when trotting. We also use a lead rein to lead the horses, although this is only added when taking the horse into the indoor school. There are two main roles at our local RDA centre. These are leading the horse or pony or being a side walker. Leading the horse is as it says on the tin, the volunteer is responsible for leading the horse and rider around the arena and ensuring everything remains safe and stable, although anyone who is familiar with leading a horse will notice some differences in the leading techniques. The other role is to be a side walker which involves walking alongside the horse next to the rider, sometimes providing physical support if needed. This provides safety for the rider and moral support too with the opportunity to engage by chatting with the rider during the riding lesson, although not all riders are keen to have conversations or are able to. Each group ride at our centre lasts for 30 minutes and during the time we are there we help with both child and adult group rides. Each ride is led by a riding instructor who has also had RDA training and she gives instructions throughout the ride. Depending on the weather we either take the riders for a hack down the lane and back or use the indoor school. Rides in the indoor school consist of activities such as going over poles or weaving in and out of cones so that the riders have activities to do. Some rides include a trot element although not all riders are able to trot even with support. I have always loved horses, so this provides a wonderful opportunity to be around horses and get my horsey fix, however the most fulfilling part is being around the riders and seeing how much they enjoy the ride. So much so in fact, that I feel as though I get more out of this activity than I give. Whilst I do not feel it is appropriate to talk about individual riders, it is magical to see the benefits that riding provides, both in terms of the physical and mental health benefits and the enjoyment. To see a rider who was once scared to get on a horse progress or on the other end of the scale a rider who from the very first time they ever get on a horse smiles right until the end of the lesson. We are part of their journey as they become more proficient. To witness the excitement as they arrive for their lesson and for that to carry on throughout the lesson. For the RDA to be able to offer the wonderful rides that they do, they rely on the help of volunteers. If you have a spare hour or more each week, then please give some thought to helping, and I promise that you will benefit in so many ways. You do not need any experience as they will provide all the relevant training, and even if you are not comfortable around horses, you can either build on that, or provide help within other areas of the charity. It’s also a great way to meet new like- minded people and there are social get togethers for the volunteers from time to time also.
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