Riding for the Disabled, 20th Birthday with Maureen Turner

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Our local branch of Riding for the Disabled celebrates its 20th birthday this month! Maureen Turner tells us about the festivities planned to mark the occasion … there’s a gala dinner, and an open day, and everyone’s welcome! 

Hi Maureen. Please explain your role with RDA and what the organisation’s all about. 

I have been with Riding for the Disabled for 43 years and with the local centre since its inception. I was the coach at the very first ride at Rainbow Flat on the property owned, then, by Richard and Nicola Paff. 

Riding for Disabled (RDA) was started in NSW by the late Pearl Batchelor. The local centre was the cherished dream of Jeff Patterson. Being a rider, Jeff knew how beneficial the movement of the horse can be for the human body. Muscles which lie dormant or are stiff and tired can relax and soften, and sometimes even be re-awakened by the warmth and stimulation of the movement of a horse.

RDA NSW Manning Great Lakes Centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary in September. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed at the centre since you’ve been involved?

I was present at the first ride day of the local centre, when it began; at that time there were only a few riders, and the horses were trucked in to ride on a Saturday morning once a month. Now we have ten horses, who all live on the RDA property at Rainbow Flat, and we ride three days per week. We cater for about 75 riders, who each have weekly lessons.

Caring for this many horses must come at a cost! Who are some of the businesses/community groups that help you out with funding/sponsorship?

Feeding such a large stable of horses comes at a considerable cost. Our horses are extremely well fed; each horse has his or her own diet, which is frequently adjusted to suit the individual. A well fed horse is a happy horse, and only a happy horse can give of his best and enjoy his work. This flows through to the rider, who enjoys and benefits from the contentment of the horse. 

We are well supported by Wingham and Valley Vets, who are constantly at our beck and call if our precious horses need them. 

It has always been a dream of mine that someone would come in behind us and supply our daily needs, allowing us coaches to just work in the arena with our riders. To a small degree this has happened, with the help of organisations like Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation, some local clubs, private individuals and more recently, an arrangement with Racing NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust, so we have had the opportunity to develop infrastructure and feed our precious horses. 

There’s a gala dinner planned to mark the 20th anniversary on Saturday 15th September. Where will this be held – and how can we get tickets? 

The dinner will be held at the Winning Post Function Room at Taree Racecourse, and tickets can be purchased at the centre on the Lakes Way at Rainbow Flat, or by telephoning Margie on 0400 313 759 or Maureen on 0418 976 531 or Jan on 0417 468 176.  

This dinner will be a great night – a night when we all gather to celebrate and give thanks for who we are and what we do. It will be a celebration night; we will have a few serious moments when we will pay a few tributes, bestow a few awards, cut a cake and generally just have a whole lot of fun. 

One of our guests will be medal winning Paralympian, Jan Pike. Jan has given a lot to our local centre and is always willing to interrupt her busy life to run clinics for our aspiring dressage riders.

On Sunday 16th, the centre will be holding an Open Day from 10am. Where is the centre located – and what activities are planned for the day?

It is located at 1856 Lakes Way Rainbow Flat, about half way between Taree and Forster. The sign on the entrance says, “Jo’s Place” – Jo rents her property to us for $1 a year! 

On this day we plan to showcase who we are and what we do, so there will be a few demonstrations of the equestrian skills of our riders. When we first developed the site we buried a time capsule, so it will be dug up and its contents looked at – and would you believe none of us who filled it and buried it can remember what we put in it! 

The NSW Mounted Police are sending two officers, who will demonstrate how they use horses to enforce the law. You may think that in a busy city with traffic and crowds everywhere, a couple of horses would be more of a hindrance than a help – well, be prepared to be surprised! Two of our bravest riders have challenged the Mounted Police to ride over their challenging course in our Pleasure Park and see if they can ride the course as well as our riders can. So, come and see what happens!

What’s been the most rewarding part for you about being involved with RDA?

I have been involved with a lot of equestrian activities in my life, but never have I seen so much achievement or so much joy as I see at RDA. I said to a father just last week, the best moment at RDA is when I can say to a rider who has been led for a long time, “Ride up to the other end and ride back to me.” That joyful moment of being able to confidently send a rider off for a little ride when you have sheltered and led them for so long is an unbelievable joy. And the smile on the face tells it all!

On another occasion I asked a boy who used a wheelchair what he liked most about riding. He said, “I don’t have to look up to see your face”. To me, that is RDA – that a boy who has spent his entire life in a wheelchair can look down on me. Some of our coaches and volunteers are talented riders, but at RDA the only one achieving is the one on the horse.

Where can we find out more info?

Through our Facebook page, or by phoning the numbers above.

Thanks Maureen.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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