In the 50th anniversary year of RDA, the opportunities available to disabled riders are now much more varied than when the charity first began five decades ago.
Two Kent-based centres that are working together to complement each other perfectly are Chalkdown RDA and Smarden Therapeutic Stables, which is an Accessibility Mark accredited centre.
The two very different groups are located just seven miles apart but share the same passion and goals for making a huge difference to the lives of their amazing riders.
Accessibility Mark was created to try and ease the strain on RDA Groups who are often massively over-subscribed and it also provides an option for riders to participate in their own communities, reducing the need to travel to their nearest RDA Group that can often be some distance away.
Smarden Therapeutic Stables, which is run by Lisa Evans, gained its accreditation in 2016, and has been successfully delivering individual horse-based therapy sessions six days a week to a variety of clients, including local special needs and residential schools and social services.
Chalkdown RDA is a flourishing group with over 40 volunteers, 30 riders and 10 ponies that meet once a week at Duckhurst Farm in Staplehurst. The dedicated team offers riding sessions that have huge therapeutic benefit to riders, giving them a great sense of personal achievement and enjoyment.
Pauline Roestenburg accidently discovered Smarden Therapeutic Stables when she took over as Chairman of Chalkdown RDA in 2016, having heard about it from one of her new volunteers.
On hearing about a new group offering riding lessons for disabled riders, Pauline wanted to find out more: “It took me by surprise so in order to understand what Accessibility Mark was all about, I got in the car and, together with my Group Coach Emma Ginger, we went over to meet Lisa and see what she was doing.
“We liked her instantly and could see how we shared the same passion and vision. Lisa is a hands-on ideas person and together with the right backing there could be no stopping us!”
The greatest asset of the two centres to riders within the community is offering the flexibility to ride more frequently. Chalkdown’s waiting list is growing all the time and the collaboration with Smarden allows Lisa and Pauline to liaise with each other to find the most suitable riding option for individual riders.
Said Lisa: “Last year one of Chalkdown’s school groups had made such fantastic progress that they were ready to move up to the next level.
“We stepped in and found them a riding slot where they were able to advance their riding skills and learn more about pony management. This, in turn, freed up a large group session at Chalkdown, helping them to reduce their waiting list.”
Pauline and Lisa recently joined forces to spend time at a local fair talking to members of the public about the different riding opportunities offered by RDA – a rare break in both their busy schedules.
“I regularly recommend riders to Smarden Therapeutic if I can. It is a far more positive option for our applicants than being told they are going onto our waiting list.” added Pauline.
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 51 Accessibility Mark-approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk