Interview: chairman of charity Norfolk Riding for the Disabled
PUBLISHED: 12:16 10 May 2019
The chairman of Norfolk Riding for the Disabled talks about the charity as it celebrates half a century of a very special kind of horse power
What do people enjoy most about the sessions?
Riders enjoy the feeling of being in command; of achievement; the feeling of movement of the pony under them. Children like being physically taller than the grown-ups. Coaches follow a lesson plan to encourage each rider to use their physical and mental abilities to the maximum to control the pony and carry out exercises and tasks.
What do you look for in the horses and ponies?
There is a common misconception that Riding for the Disabled needs old, slow, 'bomb-proof' ponies. A good temperament is vital, but we also need them to be fit, healthy, happy, ready to work and capable of helping our riders achieve their very best. They should be quiet, good with sudden noises and movements and be patient.
When were the Norfolk groups set up?
Riding for disabled children began in Norfolk in 1968, one year before the national charity was formed. Major Derek Allhusen and his wife offered therapeutic riding on their ponies to the disabled children of the Clare School, Norwich. It became Norfolk's first RDA group and the first in the UK to receive a visit from RDA President the Princess Royal. This spring saw the establishment of new groups at Walsingham and Worstead, bringing the total to 10.
How did you get involved?
I started as a helper and immediately found the rewards of seeing the riders' progress and enjoyment to be the highlight of my week. I enjoy meeting riders and volunteers and seeing how riders of all abilities cast aside their disabilities to achieve so much and have so much fun doing it.
Do you need volunteers?
Volunteers are always needed. No RDA group can function without volunteer helpers and most groups do not have any salaried staff. Anyone from age 16 can volunteer and there is no upper age limit. No prior knowledge of things 'horsey' is required. Being able to get on with a diverse team of fellow volunteers and having a sense of fun will ensure a volunteer gets lots out of a very rewarding post.
Do the horses enjoy it?
Undoubtedly. Equines have a well-documented empathy with disabled people and their reaction to the riders is almost always positive.
RDA groups are based across the county including near King's Lynn, Diss, Filby and Weston Longville. Some offer carriage driving and horse-care as well as therapeutic riding for clients, aged from four to 60-plus, with a wide range of disabilities.