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The movement of the horse has been used for many years as a therapeutic tool for physical and mental benefit.
The walking horse produces approximately 100 movements in three dimensions – in just one minute. This unique way a horse moves cannot be replicated by other methods or equipment and just one example of how it can help is to develop the rider’s body and head control, enhancing their ability to achieve a symmetrical, upright posture and to normalise muscle tone. The horse’s warmth and movement also provides opportunities for the rider to develop balance reactions and reduce muscle spasms, which can greatly improve someone’s quality of life. The therapy offered by horses does not stop there and there is one group helping people to make a difference to their lives via their four legged friends.
The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1965 and today helps over 26,000 people participate in riding and driving, with 500 member groups across the UK. East Devon has its own group, which was founded twenty years ago and it helps local people access the many benefits that can be gained from riding. The list of benefits is extensive but includes learning new skills, increasing physical fitness, promoting independence, encouraging communication and also offering an avenue for the rider to relax and enjoy themselves. The riders at East Devon RDA are children and adults of all ages and disabilities, they may have physical or learning disabilities, may experience sensory disability, have difficulty with hearing or have little or no sight. Some riders may have special needs ranging from behavioural to emotional problems but all are welcome to take part and they enjoy the exercises and social contact with the volunteer leaders and side walkers and, especially, contact with other riders.
The group meets twice a week and has up to 24 riders split over several sessions. They ride horses and ponies hired from a local riding school and because one rider may need up to three people to support them there is a strong reliance on volunteers. Like the riders, the volunteers come from all over East Devon and they are vital to the success of the group, without them the RDA’s aim to improve lives could not be fulfilled. New helpers are always needed and are ensured a warm welcome and an enjoyable time taking part in the fun and laughter.
The horses used by the group are specially selected for their good temperaments, so volunteers don’t always need to be experienced horse people.
East Devon RDA is a registered charity and they need to continually raise funds to support their activities. One of the main uses of money raised is to subsidise the riding fees by 50%. This significant contribution makes the session fees more accessible to a wider number of people and enables some people to ride who otherwise couldn’t afford to take part. Sponsorship or financial support is naturally gratefully received as it is used to enable people to take part in an activity that makes such an important difference to their lives.
It is amazing to think that here in East Devon, a special group of volunteers is helping people from their own community to laugh, learn, communicate and improve their physical health with the assistance of an equally special group of horses. With no discrimination and measurable benefits, riding is being made accessible to people of all ages thanks to the East Devon group of the RDA.
If you would like to know more about making a difference or have any questions about the group and their activities, please telephone Chairman & Organiser, Jan Banfield-Potter on 0845 241 4374 or mobile 07976 323066 or ring Jan Portlock, Fundraising Coordinator on 01404 814602.