Margie Lewis – RDA Taree President

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Riding for the Disabled (RDA) is a voluntary organisation providing equine assistance activities for people with disabilities. The organisation is hoping to generate support with its fundraising project, Raise the Roof, to enable it to build and erect a roof enclosure for its arena. RDA Taree President, Margie Lewis, tells us about RDA’s work, its volunteers and the importance of Raising the Roof …

What does the RDA program involve?

The program provides an opportunity for all participants to experience the joys of riding and at the same time gain many therapeutic benefits. Riding has long been known as a therapeutic form of exercise, as a horse’s muscles stimulate muscle activity in the rider, which is often unable to be activated.

The relationship that develops between horse and rider can increase self esteem and confidence, plus provides a sense of belonging. For a person who uses a wheelchair, the program can assist with their mobility. Sitting astride a horse provides a level of independence not otherwise possible.

Participants are taught as far as possible about how to look after the horses, as well as ride them. If they wish, riders can progress to competitions at local, regional, state and national level. This is the case both for riding and carriage driving.

How does the centre operate?

The centre is run by a team of very dedicated volunteers. There is no recurrent funding available for the program. The centre relies on generous donations from people and businesses in the community and from fundraising activities they hold.

All monies raised goes directly back into the centre to assist in feeding and caring for the horses, which are the mainstay of the program and also to purchase safety and activity equipment, to ensure a high-quality of service provision continues.

What are the responsibilities of coaches at the centre?

The coach is responsible to ensure the safety of all participants, including volunteers. They assess the abilities of a rider when they first commence, matching them to a horse suitable to their needs. In consultation with the rider and any support people they may have with them, the coach develops an individual program with goals for them to aim for.

The coach develops a lesson plan for each riding lesson. Over time, the lesson plan assists riders to progress towards their goals. When developing lesson plans, the coach may consult with parents, carers, therapists and teachers.

In doing this, the lesson plans can include learning being undertaken by the rider in other areas of their life.

How many volunteers contribute their time and assistance? 

Currently, there are 60 volunteers registered with the centre. They range in age from early teens to their 80s. Some people give their time a few days a week – others a few hours once a week or fortnight.

The volunteers are a pivotal part of the program. Volunteers walk beside the riders and assist them to understand the instructions from the coach and assist them to carry out the instructions. The volunteer in this capacity can also provide physical and emotional support to the rider as required.

Volunteers lead the horses for the riders and when the riders are ready for an increase in independence, the leader reduces the amount of support by allowing the rider a longer lead. Volunteers develop partnerships with the riders and become the person in which the riders trust. We also have volunteers who give their time in other areas such as catering, fundraising, committee and PR.

Any advice for people with a disability who are apprehensive about riding a horse?

RDA would be a great place to start. The program and support are tailored to meet the needs of each individual. Keeping safety in mind at all times, that support can be as much or as little as is needed.

Riders are encouraged to extend themselves and to try new things or levels – although, expectations are not placed on anyone. Participation in the program is a consultative process between the coach, rider and support people.

What is ‘horse driving’?

Carriage driving is an alternative program for people who would like to be involved but do not want to or can’t ride. In this case, the Whip (coach-in-carriage driving speak) is in the carriage with the person learning.

There are two sets of reins – one set for the participant and one set for the Whip. Again, the level of independence is assessed, and the support provided by the Whip is adjusted to suit. The horse is specially trained, as are the Whip and the team of volunteers who assist.

Tell us about the fundraising project, Raise the Roof …

Raise the Roof is all about putting a roof over the arena. Currently our riding arena is open to the elements, meaning that in inclement weather we can’t ride. This creates disappointment for the riders and sometimes also creates increased levels of anxiety, due to unpredictability.

Some of our riders can only tolerate a short time in the saddle, due to being out in the sun and the heat. Having a roof would mean people could ride for longer periods. It would allow our program to be accessible to more people and to groups of people.

Once our arena has a roof, we will have a highly sought after facility. When not in use by us, we could hold clinics or run schools for other equestrian enthusiasts, thus bringing additional and much-needed income to the centre.

Thanks Margie.

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