|Having fun during a riding lesson|
It's not a matter of public record, but I am a big fan of the Archers. It was while discussing this shared interest that the topic of the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) came about. You see while the Archers storylines often feature horses and stables there is no mention of any riding by or for disabled people. It was this in mind that I was delighted to be invited by Comic Relief to visit a project they fund, East Park Riding for the Disabled Group in Surrey.
I met Sally who runs the riding school with her husband and daughter and the invaluable help of 80 volunteers. The riding school is a registered charity and they fundraise in order to provide the lessons at a subsidised cost for the children. Parents make a contribution towards the lessons and the school offers extraordinary support. The instructors and volunteers have expectations of the children and their abilities. This is not a case of putting a child on a pony and walking them round a bit. They work towards assessments and take part in competitions. Some children are able to concentrate here where they struggle at school and the teacher has noticed that one child who often needs time out in the classroom has been a lot calmer when attending East Park.
|The hat and boot room|
As the children put on their riding hats and boots the ponies are led in and walked around. Then each child goes up one in turn to check the bridle and show they know how to take care of their pony. On the morning I went it was Michael's first riding lesson and his pony came up to say hello before the lesson started. Michael chatters incessantly, he is a twin and has a range of special needs. He was very excited about riding for the first time. I also met a girl who a year ago was fully sighted and has now lost almost all of her sight. It has been a life changing experience that has taken away her confidence. Another child has been in and out of school having chemotherapy treatment. It is hoped that riding will help all these children overcome their fears and anxieties as well as being great fun.
|Michael meets one of the ponies before his first lesson|
There were two lessons while I was there both with children from the same mainstream school. The children who attend have a wide range of different abilities including special needs and visual impairment and they all look forward to their weekly riding lesson. I observed how calm they were, the attention they paid to instructions and how they undertook specific exercises to encourage movement and co-ordination. One of the moves across the body supports physiotherapeutic work to help children with balance.
|Practising a figure eight for competition|
Comic Relief fund a great many projects in the UK and I'm so pleased that I got to see this one. I've been aware of riding for the disabled for many years, but haven't seen it. The children I met and talked to have benefited in so many ways and the ponies are lovely and so patient.
|The stars of the riding school|
Once again I'll be taking part in a creative fundraising attempt as part of Team Honk. We're a group of bloggers from all over the country who have previously passed a baton from Lands End to John O'Groats (well the other way round actually) and danced for six hours at Wembley Arena. Last year three of us visited as many museums as we could in London in one day - we managed 27 of them. This year we are taking part in 'Come Honk With Me,' and I'll be travelling round parks in London with fellow London Honkers dressed for dinner and preparing meals as we go. I have no idea how yet - we never do before we begin - but I guarantee it's going to be fun and we hope to raise a lot of money to enable Comic Relief to continue funding fantastic projects like the one I visited.
|A carriage that has been donated to East Park RDA|