In 2018 Sparsholt College in Hampshire became the 50thcentre to gain Accessibility Mark accreditation, with the aim of expanding its services to disabled riders.
Horse riding has many well-documented therapeutic benefits for disabled people but, as a recent study by RDA found out, it can also have a huge impact on the volunteers that support participants.
Full-time students undertaking one of the range of equine courses on offer at the college are actively encouraged to volunteer with the Accessibility Mark sessions that take place every week, to help build their portfolio and improve their employment skills.
Some students travel into college on their study days to get involved while others participate as part of their industry skills days, where they are required to work on the yard.
For many of the students on a career path to becoming a coach, the Accessibility Mark sessions provide an opportunity to gain valuable experience in the challenges faced by disabled riders.
All Accessibility Mark volunteers must take part in compulsory training with Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), meaning the students develop an understanding of good practice, adhering to the high standards set out by the charity.
They gain a valuable insight into providing engaging lessons for disabled riders that aim to set achievable goals, while also understanding the need for additional helpers such as side-walkers.
Gabbie McHenry, the Equine Centre Manager said: “All volunteers are trained in how to correctly participate in the activity and take a practical continual assessment aimed at riding school staff and volunteers, which covers leading, grooming, customer care and health and safety. Once they are competent they are awarded their BHS Riding School Certificate of Competence (RSCC).
“Volunteering with the Accessibility Mark sessions adds a unique element to our courses, so when the students begin their careers outside the security of the college, they have gained experience in working with riders with a range of disabilities.
“As well as learning to problem solve when teaching a rider where things are not just straightforward, it also helps them learn about communication. All combined together this should hopefully make our students stand out from the crowd to employers in an increasingly competitive field.”
“We are very happy to be able to support the work of such a well-respected organisation as RDA and several of the students have already expressed an interest in continuing to volunteer beyond finishing their course, showing how valuable this experience is to them.” added Gabbie.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial to riders of varying levels of disability.
There are currently 52 Accessibility Mark-approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk