Volunteers are at the very heart of the success of Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), and are the glue that binds every aspect of the charity together.
Every year, Volunteers’ Week (June 1-7) provides a chance to celebrate the amazing contribution that is made by ordinary people from every walk of life who give up their valuable time to benefit others.
But, as a recent RDA report found, volunteering doesn’t just benefit the participants but has a huge role to play in tackling loneliness and mental health, helping people gain more perspective and become less inward focused.
There are many different roles fulfilled by volunteers, without whom the charity wouldn’t be able to carry out its life-changing work. From people on the ground assisting riders at RDA Groups up and down the country to the dedicated fund-raisers, whose constant determination ensures the books balance, volunteers are vital.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of RDA in 2019, their 50 Faces campaign is telling the story of 50 volunteers, members and participants, to highlight their fantastic achievements.
Here we meet one of the 50 Faces, volunteer, Doug Smith, who is testament to the fact that volunteering with RDA could lead to exciting adventures all over the world.
At the age of 45, Doug Smith found himself unemployable, uninsurable and not realising he was sinking into clinical depression.
Born and bred in Handsworth, Birmingham, Doug’s first picture of him riding was on a donkey called Silver at Weston Super Mare around 1959 and in 1973 he joined the Mounted Police, a career he thoroughly enjoyed until one fateful day.
“At first I rode and trained on a variety of horses but after a while I was allocated my own horse to train and I ended up taking him to Orgreave during the Miner’s Strike.” Said Doug, a member of the Stafford and District RDA Group.
“He was only a little horse, but he had the heart of a lion, galloping on the road into a full-blown riot.
“You’d go from something like that to the Pope’s visit to Coventry. Thousands and thousands of people, and suddenly we were surrounded by about 200 singing nuns. That was crowd control of the best kind!”
Doug’s spiral out of control started when he broke his back, being thrown from a horse, leaving him in a full body cast and spending four months in a metal cage.
Until then he had produced a number of horses from raw youngsters enjoying the process and the time it takes to build their trust.
When Doug found himself out of work and at a low ebb following his accident, it was suggested to him that he might like to go to the Atlanta Paralympics as a volunteer.
On his return he threw himself into volunteering at RDA and with his wealth of riding experience he became a much valued member of the team and by his own admission it transformed his life.
In 2000, Doug travelled to Australia where he was yard manager for the Paralympic team at the Syndey Olympics, with his philosophy being that it’s the contribution of volunteers that preserve an event.
Adds Doug: “I have met some incredible people from all around the world and worked with a huge variety of horses.
“The Atlanta Olympics were one on their own. Without doubt the RDA has provided so many amazing experiences and taken me all around the world, meeting lots of lovely people.
“As an RDA volunteer we should be bloody proud of what we do, and not go around saying, I’m just an RDA volunteer. I’m sorry that just winds me up; you’re not just an RDA volunteer. You are an RDA volunteer. Be proud.
“It is important to be professional in everything we do and that way we will be respected in the equestrian world.
“There are fabulous people in the RDA who do amazing jobs and we have to aspire to that.”
Volunteering with RDA – Horses, Health and Happiness
RDA recently surveyed over 1,500 of its volunteers to understand the impact of volunteering on their physical and mental well-being. The results, presented to Parliament to launch RDA’s 50th anniversary, revealed the multiple benefits:
81% said that volunteering with RDA made them feel better about themselves.
88% said they felt like they belonged to the RDA Community.
93% said volunteering helped to keep them physically active
95% of RDA volunteers feel they have gained knowledge and skills.
80% feel the knowledge they have gained has helped them in other areas of their life
For more information about volunteering with RDA, to visit the 50 Faces project or download the report ‘Horse, Health & Happiness’ visit www.rda.org.uk