Ever since I started riding at my local riding stables as a pony-mad-kid, cobs have been my favourite type. There is something about their kind eyes, big fluffy coats, and laid back attitude that just makes you want to go and give them a big cuddle! My horse, Juan, was a 15hh cob-cross, with the most beautiful piebald markings. He was well known across the Cotswolds, where I live, for his quirky personality, and proved to me how cool cobs can be!
Here are my top five reasons why cobs rule…
• Their reliability and trustworthiness...
There is something about the look in a cob’s eye that tells you that you can trust them, and this has certainly proved to be the case with all the cobs I have ever met! They have gained a reputation over the years for being honest and kind, making them fantastic horses for nervous or novice riders. However, having said that, the Welsh Section D is often a much feistier ride and needs a more confident partner. Cobs are also good weight carriers, so suitable for the whole family.
• Their show potential...
If you fancy showing, there are endless opportunities for cobs.There are ridden classes- Lightweight, Heavyweight and Maxi Cob, plus Working Cobs, divided into novice and open, where horses and riders will be required to jump a number of fences and you can enter side-saddle classes.
• And their hardiness...
One of the qualities that attracts so many horse owners is their robust and hardy nature. Most cobs are perfectly happy living out all year round, with their thick coats keeping them toasty warm over winter. They are ‘good-doers’, generally requiring relatively little hard feed, although they are also well known for getting a bit too round when there is lots of grass on offer so you have to keep an eye on that!
• Whilst being great all-rounders...
Despite having somewhat shorter legs than their thoroughbred and warmblood friends, cobs can make fantastic jumpers. Out hunting whilst other riders are having trouble with their flashier steeds the sure footed cob takes the day in his stride, turning the windiest rider into a confident thruster! They can also be good dressage horses, and are well known for their bold and comfortable paces. Their relaxed, unflappable nature also means that they make the perfect ‘happy hacker’, being the ideal companion for long rides across the countryside.
• And they are GREAT for a bit of horse hugging!
...it's like cuddling a giant teddy bear-and those adorable muzzles are just right for kissing, mwahh! Most importantly (in my eyes!) cobs make the best of reliable friends. What more could anyone want?!
So, for me, cobs tick all the boxes – do you agree?
If you have a ‘cool cob’ please share the lurve below... ♥
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You've probably heard of the Blue Cross, a hugely important charity that rescues and rehomes animals, including cats, dogs, other small pets, and of course, HORSES. Personally, it's my favourite equine charity and here's why….
• They rescue and find new homes for horses and other animals whose owners are unable to give them the love and attention they need.
• They help educate people about animal welfare, running workshops across the country for new pet owners and visiting schools to teach children about the importance of looking after their animals properly.
• They provide veterinary care to animals whose owners are unable to afford expensive vet fees.
I find the history of the Blue Cross particularly interesting too. Originally called ‘Our Dumb Friends League’, the Charity was set up in 1837 to improve the welfare of the many horses that worked on the streets of London and were often treated appallingly. Anyone who has read or watched Black Beauty will know how important this work was! Then in 1906 the charity opened the world’s first animal hospital in Victoria. Since then they've grown to 12 rehoming centres across the country through which they help over 35,000 animals each year.
Polar Bear poses as she eats her hay #multitasking
Of course they are always looking to find new homes for the horses they have taken in. Some make perfect companions whilst others can be trained or re-trained to become rideable with an experienced home. Re-homing one of these horses can be an amazing way to give an animal a second chance and a happier life. Our gorgeous companion pony, Polar Bear (she looks like her namesake when she gets her big fluffy coat!) is a rescue, and she has been wonderful – she is the sweetest pony, and absolutely loves children. She has even taken a two-year-old to a Pony Club Rally, and I’m not sure who had more fun! She is just one example of so many other success stories of rescue horses and ponies who have been re-homed. But if you can't rehome why not think about sponsoring a Blue Cross animal which helps the charity provide them with all the care they need.
Blue Cross fundraising events officer, Emma Jones with Delilah
There are lots of other ways that we can get involved too. The charity relies on its many volunteers so you could look into that, and of course you could fund-raise. Fund raising can be anything from doing a sponsored ride, to even doing something as simple as cleaning everyone on the yard’s tack for a small donation. Visit their website for more ideas and info about fundraising. And if you’re feeling adventurous take part in one of their exciting ‘challenge’ events. In April this year, the charity are organising the ‘Dalai Lama Trek’ across North India, where volunteers will embark on a five day trek through the foothills of the Himalayas, being sponsored to help to raise money for this wonderful cause. I think it sounds amazing, and would love to do something like that one day, if I ever feel brave enough!
To find out more about how you can get involved, visit the Blue Cross’ website. Do you have your own story about adopting a rescue horse or pony because I'd love to hear about it!
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The reasons why I got involved in a road safety campaign to protect all horse riders.
On January 18th 2015, me and my wife were riding our grey horses along a narrow ‘B’ road a couple of miles from our stables. We were in walking pace with high visibility clothing and HD headcams. A BMW passed us very close and made no effort to slow down. A vehicle from the opposite direction did the same thing a few seconds later. Shortly after that, another vehicle, a bronze Renault appeared in our vision and at high speed, was splashing through the big puddles that had appeared after heavy rainfall.
In the very short time available to us before the driver was upon us, I made some very obvious ‘slow down’ gestures which the driver totally ignored. My horse spun but I was able to keep her in one place. My wife’s horse was very stressed and finished up in the middle of the road. It could have been so much worse. Three cars in close succession had gone past us in a dangerous manner and that was the point where I was not prepared to simply wait for the day that some ignorant and/or arrogant driver killed one of us or one of our horses.
I reported the incident to the police and provided them with the video evidence. Within 24 hours, our local police Safer Neighbourhood Team got in touch with me and advised me in writing that the driver had been visited and warned about his future conduct. Our headcam evidence had made this possible and the police response was exactly what was needed. Over the next few months, we provided the police with a further six videos and five of the incidents resulted in police follow-up. One driver was told that if there was any repetition of his appalling driving, he would go straight to court.
PROTECTION FOR HORSE RIDERS
I started doing research into motorist safety obligations when passing horses on the roads and Section 215 of the Highway Code spelt out very clearly that safe passing of a horse is almost entirely the responsibility of the motorist. Those who say that horses can be unpredictable are correct and even more so when a driver goes past at far too high a speed and too close. That acceptance of horse unpredictability is PRECISELY WHY Section 215 of the Highway Code is so specific about passing horses WIDE AND SLOW.
I uploaded the video of the incident and expected that many of the riders in my friends list (maybe 30 or 40 riders at the time) would share the video. Within a month, the video had accumulated 20,000 shares and 2 million views. I realised that this was a subject that needed a big debate and millions of people wanted to have their say.
IGNORANCE, ARROGANCE AND SELFISHNESS
Although the vast majority of people were supportive of our embryonic campaign to make our roads safer, the dangerous minority of motorists were very keen to get their anti-horse opinions to the front of the queue. We have been accused of ‘trying to tell them how to drive’ (we don’t, obviously – Section 215 does that) along with abuse and threats. One particular ‘gentleman’ told me that if he had been driving that car, he would have smashed into my horse. Here are his words.
I contacted the individual’s employer from information on his Facebook page and asked them if they had a social media policy for employees. They did and they were very keen to deal with this individual via their disciplinary system. I was not prepared to tolerate abuse and threat from anyone, when all we are doing is trying to protect vulnerable road users from people like him.
WHY DO SOME DRIVERS CONTINUE TO IGNORE THEIR SAFETY OBLIGATIONS AND FIGHT AGAINST OUR CAMPAIGN FOR SAFER ROADS?
It would require a highly qualified psychiatric expert to get to the bottom of it fully but based on our own experience, here is the breakdown of road users by attitude:
Group 1 – Safe, sensible considerate people who drive carefully around vulnerable road users. – Estimated at 75% of motorists – 3 in every 4 will be sensible and considerate.
Group 2 – This group is made up of the ignorant and those completely unaware of their safety obligations under Highway Code Section 215. Most of these people are capable of changing their ways and many will listen to reason once the facts are revealed to them. 20% of drivers are in this group by our reckoning.
Group 3 – the dangerous hard core of people who are arrogant enough to believe that they can frighten horse riders off the roads on the basis that ‘roads are for cars’. 5%.
As we all know, the PUBLIC highway is just that but the dangerous minority seem to have nothing but hate and contempt for vulnerable road users who are ‘in their way’ when the driver is living out his or her Formula 1 or Rally Driving fantasies on narrow rural roads.
ROOT CAUSES OF IGNORANCE AND TRAGEDY ON RURAL ROADS
The UK driving test is in many respects unfit for purpose. Driving examinations make only passing reference to rural dangers in the theory test and the vast majority of practical tests happen in towns for reasons of administrative expediency. Discussions are being held by the relevant authorities to include motorway driving skills in the test but absolutely no mention of rural driving. When you look at these figures that cover an 8-year period, you will begin to question the thinking behind that decision.
Deaths on urban roads exceed those on motorways by over 10-1 but the driving and transport department clearly believe that testing of motorway driving skills is a higher priority. On what criteria do they base these seemingly crazy decisions?
RURAL DRIVING KNOWLEDGE
There is no requirement for a new driver under examination to have any experience of rural driving even though the risks, hazards and speeds are generally higher than those in towns and other urban areas. The fatality numbers in the chart above show very clearly where the real priorities lie if we are to significantly reduce the number of avoidable deaths on country roads. One driving instructor told me that he couldn’t do anything about it because the problems were down to ‘attitudes’. I responded to him that the people best placed to mould safe attitudes were the very same people that spend months with these new drivers, giving them plenty of opportunity to shape future behaviour. The instructors themselves.
I have continued to put a lot of time and effort into raising awareness during the last 12 months since the first video was uploaded. That video has had nearly 4.5 million views and 70,000 shares.
I have released some video blogs including one that reminds riders that we all have a responsibility for road safety and that hi-viz kit and headcams are essential if we are to
Be more visible to approaching motorists and;
Be in a position to provide video evidence to the police.
The headcam campaign has been very successful and many thousands of riders are now equipped with a camera that will allow them to seek justice without the requirement for a witness after an incident. It is a lack of witnesses that has prevented justice taking its proper course in the past. We have the power to change that. During our meeting with the Roads Minister on 23rd February, he assured us that headcam evidence was perfectly acceptable either with or without witnesses being present. If the police show any lack of interest in your videos, contact your local Police & Crime Commissioner. The police are required to act upon video evidence where dangerous or risky driving is clearly shown. Our local police take the sensible view that they would rather talk to these dangerous people now rather than picking up the pieces after a collision at a later date.
This is essential for all riders. A person wearing dark clothing and riding a dark –coloured horse is increasing their own risk of death or injury. The estimated extra warning time given to drivers upon sight of bright, reflective clothing can make the difference between getting back to the stables safely or sitting by your injured horse at the roadside while the vet drives over to put it to sleep. It’s a no-brainer.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Many would say that after the recent collision between a car and a horse-drawn funeral carriage, not very far but I would disagree. We joined up with Debbie Smith in support of her petition for Section 215 to be tightened up to protect riders. It was a very positive meeting at Parliament on 23rd February and the Minister will be discussing it with the relevant senior people in the police and other road-related agencies before deciding how best to proceed. We can only wait for the outcome of that petition but the fact that it was supported by over 70,000 people suggests that it will be looked at seriously.
The campaign continues.
Foxhunting is still an issue that sparks heated debate even though the Hunting Act of 2004 made it illegal to hunt foxes with hounds so they are supposed to follow a pre-laid trail instead. However, drag hunting, which began in the nineteenth century, and hunting with Bloodhounds, provide alternatives which continue to take place legally across the UK today. Essentially, Fox or Bloodhounds follow a scent (drag) that has been laid along a predetermined course, meaning it won't upset any of you who don't feel happy about hunting an animal but involves all the excitement of galloping across an open field and flying over jumps! Drag hunting is also different to foxhunting in the way the day pans out. With drag hunting the course is broken up into legs so that you have a rest stop at designated places and it is usually pretty flat out in-between. Whereas with Fox hunting the trail is laid to follow the more natural track of a fox which the hounds pick up and lose in line with the more chance encounters of foxhunting so there is a different flow to the day and it is often longer.
Anyway, here are my top reasons why a day’s drag hunting is an experience that is hard to beat for both horse and rider, and why I really recommend you should give it a go…
It's great fun if you love speed and jumping! It can also be a great way to educate a horse to jump natural obstacles-helping give them confidence because they are jumping with the herd so to speak, and it also teaches them to look after themselves in often less than perfect conditions, which can be a great asset if you go eventing.
A good day drag hunting will improve rider confidence too. Galloping with so many other horses and their riders can be exhilarating fun and the adrenaline and camaraderie you get from riding in company can help to make you braver over solid fences and hedges.
It not only makes our horses fitter but does the same for us too! And in terms of exercise for the rider, an hour of rising trot has been shown to burn up to 350 calories, so imagine the benefit of a whole day’s hunting! Admittedly, however, a few chocolate bars are often smuggled into jacket pockets to keep those energy levels up throughout the day…so calorie wise it might even out BUT your fitness levels, both strength and stamina-wise will definitely have gone up!
Being a part of a hunt introduces you to a great social life. You'll make new friends on the hunting field and hunts hold lots of other social events such as the legendary hunt ball, and even out of season they hold anything from BBQ's to cricket matches, helping to bring communities together with some inevitable friendly competitiveness!
Before making the decision to go hunting it is really important that both you and your horse are ready for it, with it being essential that your horse is fit enough for the job, whilst also knowing that you will have the control that you need and that you are both comfortable with going at a fast pace in open spaces, preferably in company.
It's also important that you follow etiquette and make sure you and your horse are attired correctly and know what the correct behaviour is.
So, this is why I am writing about Drag hunting when the season has nearly finished! Now is a really good time to find your local hunt and go and see what it's all about from the ground. People are usually very friendly and keen to share their passion for their sport. You can also introduce yourself to the Hunt Secretary who will answer any questions. Like any club, it's quite daunting when you first go, but once you've got to know a few people, I'm sure you'll be pleased you plucked up the courage and took the plunge. Then you've got the summer to sort out the kit you need and work on making sure both you and your horse are ready for the next season!
I would love to hear about your experiences drag hunting and please share any advice!
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In December 1996, Carol Dunster made a £70 donation to adopt and rehome a gelding called Boxer from World Horse Welfare. Little did she know of the journey on which she was about to embark with this horse...
Boxer was prone to bolting, and categorised as unsuitable for novice riders by World Horse Welfare when Carol took him on. However, enduring many testing times, the 'spirited' Boxer and Carol went from being the laughing stock to local celebrities at showjumping events with wins all over Devon and Cornwall. Boxer enjoyed his celebrity status as a fine 'ambassador' for World Horse Welfare.
Carol has written a book about Boxer - A true rags to riches story of their adventures of high and lows over sixteen years, and how they helped each other and became best friends.
Our questions to Carol:
Q: What originally made you decide to take on a rescue horse, and were you a very experienced horsewoman at the time?
A: I have ridden since a very young age and for other people. I saw too many times that people would give up too easily on horses and ponies if they didn't do what they wanted. Also, horses moved on so quickly for such huge amount of money. I wanted to prove to the Equestrian world that it's not always about money. When I first bought Boxer home people did laugh at me as if to say 'you will never get a charity horse to do any thing worth while' - That's why they ended up in a Charity in the first place. To be honest, I didn't know how it was going to pan out. I just wanted to believe and try and love Boxer.
Q: What attracted you to Boxer in particular?
A: His eyes, and the way he looked at me and moved.
Q: Were you prepared for quite how difficult he was going to be?
A: No way was I prepared how difficult he was going to be! I fell in love with Boxer and no matter what went on, I was sticking with him and prove the Equestrian World wrong.
Q: You sustained quite a few injuries so why did you continue to persevere with him?
A: I loved Boxer so much and knew in my heart we would be ok.
Q: What was the worst piece of advice you were given?
A: Worst piece of advice was to send him back World Horse Welfare.
Q: And what was the best?
A: Best Advice was believe in myself and Boxer, and never to give up.
Q: What lessons did he teach you?
A: The lessons Boxer taught me was to never give up, and if there is something you love and believe in, stick with it. All will work out in the end, as it did with us. It is so easy to walk away from things in life when things get tough and very hard, rather than work harder at them.
Q: Would you recommend others take on a rescue horse and what advice would you give them?
A: Yes. I would recommend to any one to give a horse or pony a loving, caring home from a charity. Every person and animal needs a loving home, and for someone to believe in them and love them for who they are. Boxer and I proved the Equestrian world wrong. My only hope is that many people who read and hear about Boxer and myself will then open their homes and find a little space for an extra member to their family. So many rescue centres are full, and need to find homes. Boxer only came to be so famous at what he did because I believed in him and wouldn't give up. All the time I was getting up off the floor I was never giving up. There is not a day that passes that I don't think of my best friend.
Boxer passed away in January 2013 at the age of 23. Carol vowed to tell his story.
Read the whole story...'BOXER' by Carol Dunster is priced at £7.99 (Free P&P to UK) and can be purchased from the website www.boxersquest.com . 25% from the sale of each book will be donated to World Horse Welfare, helping the charity to continue their work in re-habilitating and re-homing horses and ponies in need.
MORE: World Horse Welfare
I think we can all agree that at some point in our lives, we find a horse that becomes so much more than just a horse, an animal who comes to be a friend, a companion, someone you can tell everything to. Perhaps, this horse may even be someone who has changed your life for the better.
Juan, a 15hh piebald cob, was that special horse for me. He took me from being a rider who had only ever had lessons in a school to someone who loved hunting, cross country and Pony Club. Not only did he massively help my confidence, but he was also a constant source of support to me, my Mum and my Grannie through some tough times.
My Grannie brought Juan when he was very young, as a horse who was scared of almost anything that moved, wouldn’t go near men and hated having his ears touched. Together, my Grannie and Juan worked to build an incredible relationship of trust and understanding, and despite her being well into her 60's by the time she first got him, she and Juan would go for long rides together, galloping for miles! As my Grannie’s arthritis got worse, Juan learnt to look after her, and would do things like standing like a rock at the mounting block for her, whilst also learning to listen to special aids as she gradually became unable to apply much pressure with her leg due to it being too painful. Going for a ride with Juan came to be something that kept my Grannie moving, and she is sure that it was crucial in helping to prevent her arthritis from getting any worse.
Although we lived about two hours away from my Grannie, I used to come and stay during my school holidays to ride, and my life came to revolve around when I would next get to see Juan. I would spend hours drawing pictures of him and looking online at all the shows I wanted to go to! As Juan and I started to do more and more together, joining the Pony Club and beginning to do small events, my Mum and I made the decision to move to Gloucestershire where my Grannie lived so that we could not only be nearer to her, but also so that I could do more of the competing with Juan that I loved so much.
Once we moved, getting to ride Juan all the time came to be something that I couldn’t see myself living without, and we used to spend weekends going for lovely long hacks, having schooling sessions and doing Pony Club rallies with our friends. Juan and I certainly had our ups and downs as a partnership, with me spending an embarrassing amount flying over jumps whilst he remained on the other side, but we came to be a good team, particularly loving doing cross country and hunter trials together.
Not only did Juan transform me as a rider and enable me to live the dream of having my own horse, but he was also a friend to me through some of the toughest times in my life. Shortly after moving to Gloucestershire I took my GCSE exams; anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a bit of a ‘stressy’ person (an understatement!!), and through GCSEs and then through A levels I had a bad habit of getting myself very wound up. However, going for a ride with Juan was one of the only things that could truly calm me down, and I have lost count of the number of times that he would listen to me worry about upcoming exams. When we first made the move to Gloucestershire, there were times when I really missed my old school and my friends from home, and it was always Juan who was able to cheer me up. There was something about his little face that would always make me smile, and I knew he would always be there for a cuddle whenever I needed one.
A true ‘family pony’, as well as helping both myself and my Grannie, he also helped my mum hugely, too. A few years ago, her Father died, something that she found very difficult to deal with since she and my Grandpa were very close, and his death came as a huge shock. I will always remember her going out for a long hack with Juan the day after he died - the impact it had on her was incredible. Juan was able to make her smile and to offer her comfort in a way that none of us humans seemed to be able to, and she always credits him for helping her to get through those initial weeks of mourning. Juan was like her rock, and I think my Mum will always be grateful to him for that.
Juan was therefore a truly special horse to me, my Mum, my Grannie, and really everyone else who knew him! He was such a cheeky chap and always made people smile, and his wonderful colouring meant that he was well recognised across the Cotswolds! Juan was the reason that we moved to Gloucestershire, one of the best things I have ever done, and he was also a constant comfort to us for so many years. Sadly, Juan had to be put down last summer due to terrible Laminitis, but I will never, ever forget him.
Thank you for everything, Juan!
I would love to hear from you if you have a horse who has changed or saved your life in the way that Juan did for me – please do get in touch with your stories!
Have you lost your confidence? Do you feel nervous riding in certain situations? Well, you're not alone - most riders will agree that it's difficult to remain confident 100% of the time. We’ve all had those pangs of anxiety, moments that have shaken us, dampening our self-assurance as a rider. And when we let nerves or doubt take hold we can influence the way our horse performs.
Positive thinking can be difficult when things aren't going well, perhaps your horse is messing about or you’re tackling an event and your nerves are getting the better of you. But, I guarantee that even if you don’t necessarily feel confident, if you can FAKE IT then you’ll start to believe in your own pretence, and so will your horse!
There have been lots of moments where I’ve felt nervous and unsure about my ability to cope with what’s coming. Once, I was riding a jump-shy pony called Candy. She was quite young and a bit nervous. When faced with a jump, she would race towards the fence and swoop to the side at the very last minute, or plant her feet and stop completely. This situation was my worst nightmare. However, my instructor insisted I get a grip of myself and think positively. After all, how could I expect Candy to succeed in jumping if I had no faith in her? If I expected her to avoid the jump, she would.
The most useful piece of advice I have ever received was - If you feel nervous or fearful, repeat the word 'YES' in your head, in time with the horse's stride. It sounds too simple I know, but this technique has helped me so many times! Try it, even if you are really scared, repeat the word 'yes' in time with your horse's stride in walk, trot or canter. This forces you to focus your mind on the rhythm and a positive outcome. Some riders find the word has more power if they say it out loud. This has the added benefit of helping to regulate your breathing, and brings you into sync with your horse’s movement. You can do it anywhere, for instance out hacking when your horse is unsure and a little spooky. This technique of repeating positive words, whether in your head or out loud, will allow you to confidently ride through yours and your horse’s fears, turning you into the positive leader your horse needs.
So, kick out those negative thoughts and replace them with the positive power of YES!
Do you believe in the power of positive thinking? Or does it get a big NO! from you? Have you tried this technique before or got others you'd like to share?
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Crystal brow bands, diamanté breeches, carbon fibre saddles....the list goes on.
Equestrian products, for both horse and rider, have evolved at a rate of knots in the last few years, but has it all gone a step too far?
We take a look at some of the equestrian products wowing us at the moment and also ask that burning question - "is it all really worth it?"
1. Lamborghini GP1 Limited Edition Saddle
Benefits: Well this saddle is certainly a head turner if nothing else. This saddle is fully hand-made. The materials used also ensure it's crush proof, with the front part of the tree reinforced with stainless steel. The saddle is made in a way which minimises pressure on a horses' back muscles.
2.PS of Sweden Bridle
Price: Circa £250
Benefits: This bridle has been designed to give a horse full freedom whilst wearing a bridle. The shape of the headpiece reduces the pressure on the poll and gives more spaces for the ears to move naturally.
3. Samshield Shadowmatt Black Chrome Helmet
Benefits: It has a crystal trim?! Surely that will give you a bit of magic to make you go faster in the jump-off? Or to add some spring to your medium trot? In all seriousness, this hat is equipped with a front air inlet which ensures the helmet provides exceptional ventilation. It's scratch and drop proof and an all round hardy helmet.
4. Animo Breeches
Benefits: The ultimate glamour. These breeches have Swarovski crystal detailing on the front and back pockets and along the back. They also feature Animo's 'AGS Gripping System' knee patches. They are also known for their wonderful fit.
We're not going to lie, we'd of course love all of the above products and it's great that we have such diversity and options available to us as equestrians. We're also excited to see what direction equestrian fashion goes next.
In answer to our question however, "Is it worth it?", we'd have to say, no... not really.
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The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), is a charity that was set up over 40 years ago with the aim of making horse riding accessible to those with disabilities, whatever their age. The charity which relies on the invaluable work of it's 500 plus volunteers, provides around 28,000 people each year with riding lessons from various different centres nationwide. The RDA also covers a huge variety of equestrian disciplines from show-jumping to dressage to carriage driving to vaulting, as well as holding regional and national competitions annually.
The horses used are all incredible. They are picked carefully based on their temperament, and are all trained to stand quietly and follow certain aids depending on the ability of their rider, forging a strong bond of trust. Like the human volunteers, the work that these animals do is invaluable.
The work that the RDA do is of vital importance, giving anyone with disabilities the chance to enjoy the many therapeutic benefits of riding and being with horses. Riding is a physically beneficial form of exercise for those who are restricted in their mobility, helping to improve their posture, balance and coordination, something that can, in time, make every-day tasks for the disabled far easier too.
Riding provides many important psychological benefits too, helping to improve communication and confidence, whilst at the same time providing participants with something that they can look forward to and find enjoyment from. It has proven to be a fantastic source of therapy, with the warmth and 3D movement of the horse being transmitted to the rider, helping them to relax. And as we all know there is that special something to be gained from being around horses! It is therefore not hard to see why the RDA is such a fantastic thing for those who are disabled to get involved with.
Earlier on this month, the BBC featured the RDA in a short programme called ‘Lifeline’, offering a somewhat emotional insight into how important the work that this amazing charity does is. Included in this programme was Amy Pendleton, the daughter of my neighbours, Nick and Sarah. Amy was born three months early, meaning that her strength was severely compromised, leaving her with many physical difficulties. However, when Amy was at nursery, it was suggested to her Mum, Sarah, that she gave riding with the RDA a try. Since then, the RDA has had a huge impact on Amy. Sarah said, ‘As soon as she sat on the horse, she sat up straight, and something was working brilliantly for her. It was like magic’. Amy’s riding has helped hugely in building her strength, which has in turn meant that she is better able to do activities like concentrate in lessons and to join in with other children her age, showing how beneficial time spent with a horse can be.
Amy’s success story with the RDA is just one example of so many others. The Paralympic Dressage Team of the London 2012 Olympics, which included Sophie Christiansen, Sophie Wells, Deb Criddle and Lee Pearson, came top of the leader board with five gold medals, whilst individual rider Natasha Baker also brought home two individual fold medals. All of these riders began their career through the RDA, something that undoubtedly played a key role in sparking their passion for horses, as well as helping them with their disabilities.
It is therefore so important that the work of the RDA continues, and that we are all aware of the many ways that we can get involved. Visit their website, http://www.rda.org.uk/, to find information on how to donate money online, as well as to find ideas about how you can carry out fund raising yourself. Donations towards this charity are so important, with the money going towards the keep of the horses and the amazing instruction that the participants will receive.
If you, or anyone you know, has been involved with the RDA, we would love to hear all about your experiences!
Watch the BBC Lifeline programme on iplayer HERE
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