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No horsing around at Wairarapa Riding for the Disabled

Each rider’s programme is individually tailored to suit their needs and their goals. PHOTOS/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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The Wairarapa branch of Riding for the Disabled Association started life as a bare paddock on the east side of Masterton but has now grown to include two outdoor arenas, a sensory trail, and a covered arena.

It offers clients of all ages and abilities the chance to grow more confident and learn new skills while working with horses.

With 27 years of service under her belt, president Linda Tankersley has seen just how far the organisation has come, and how much it has helped young people with varying disabilities.

She first got involved in March of 1993.

I just needed to do something,” she said.

Tankersley had little experience with horses, though her daughter had owned a pony for a short time.

“I was a primary school teacher so was used to working with children.”

Argo and Tara are former Kaimanawa rescue horses.

She started as a side walker, learning to groom from others.

It’s not an unusual story, many of the volunteers start out with little knowledge of horses.

For others, it’s one of the main reasons they join.

“A lot of our volunteers come because of the horses. Others come because of the children.”

Either way, people tended to find it a rewarding experience and stuck around, she said.

“I think volunteers find it more rewarding than what they thought it might be.

“We don’t give pony rides. We ride horses with a purpose.”

RDA is a charitable organisation which partners horses with people living with a range of disabilities including Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, those on the autism spectrum, and others with learning difficulties.

“A lot of the riders are coming to us with different needs,” Tankersley said.

“We have a number who come to us with a physical disability.”

The 24 riders last year ranged in age from just three years old to college age.

There was also one adult rider.

Many have been referred to the programme by health specialists, physiotherapists, or simply through word of mouth.

Princess, at almost 30 years old, is Tankersley’s favourite.

She said working with health agencies had made a massive difference and allowed RDA to intervene with riders much earlier on.

“With some riders, there are large steps and for others it’s small,” she said.

“All riders have an individual programme tailored to their needs, with individual goals.”

For some children, this means strength and muscle toning, for others building confidence and self-esteem, or for those with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] helping them learn to concentrate better.

“Once they gain confidence here, they take it with them out to other parts of their lives. I think that relates totally to the horse – horses are very calming animals.”

When pairing horses and riders, temperament is just as important as gait – different size horses cater to different riders.

“The movement of the horse is so essential to the movement of the rider.

“Some of our horses are quite aged but they still have a good gait.”

There are seven horses at the Wairarapa group – Jack, Mimi, Noa, Tara, Ben, Princess, and Argo.

Each is sponsored by a local business.

“We’ve had a great deal of community support.

“We rely on donations and grants, as well as bequests.”

The group also has a volunteer base of about 30 people but is always interested to hear from those keen to help.

Tankersley said it would be her last year with the reins as she planned to step down.

“It’s a lovely group of people to work with. It’s a great place to work.”

More information about RDA can be found online at: rda.org.nz/volunteering/your-local-rda/Wairarapa.

A riding programme lasts one year and costs $30 per term, per rider.

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