The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is a worldwide organisation that offers therapeutic riding activities for people with disabilities. There are over 500 volunteer groups in the UK and many more around the world from the USA and Russia to Ethiopia and Bosnia, all reliant on voluntary help, donations and legacies, to carry out their work. The simple pleasure of working with horses is the cornerstone of everything the RDA does.
People with disabilities of all ages and backgrounds experience a refreshing freedom of movement, gain skills and confidence, build new relationships, and receive life-enhancing physiotherapy. The therapeutic benefits for the rider include strengthening core stability, reducing spasms and improving balance, posture and co-ordination, and those with progressive diseases can retain mobility and remain active for longer. Those with severe disabilities who are able to lie on the back of a horse while it walks slowly, feel its warmth and power, experience three dimensional movement transmitted through their own bodies. This makes them excited, happy and feel alive, or as one rider put it – ‘It’s like riding a rainbow’.
Here I will illustrate the work of one small group – Otley and District RDA in West Yorkshire. My own family have been riders, volunteers, and committee members of the group for 16 years. It is through the ordinary yet extraordinary lives and stories of people with disabilities and their families that the important work of the RDA truly comes alive.