Dancing With Horses - Riding for the disabled

The 2012 Paralympics brought the attention of the world to an irrefutable fact – people with disabilities can achieve incredible results in many fields.  Let us hope that the legacy of the Paralympics continues for children and adults across many activities and sports.

Horse eyeOne such activity is horse riding.  Many people will have heard of the world-wide charity RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association).  Further information for the UK can be found at http://www.rda.org.uk/  However, fewer people may be aware that RDA isn’t just about riding, but also includes carriage driving and equine vaulting.

The benefits of these activities are immense.   To see a child progress from a very apprehensive first meeting with a horse to the beaming confidence that shows after just a few weeks or months is a huge reward for everyone involved.  For a child in a wheelchair, this could be the first time in their lives that they are actually higher than the people around them.  They see the world from a whole new perspective.  They also build up a relationship with the horse or pony as they learn how to care for it, including grooming, feeding and tacking up, to the extent that they are able to do so.

Disabilities are not all physical.   Children with behavioural problems, which could include autism, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or difficulties forming relationships also benefit, especially when they are introduced to equine vaulting, or dancing with horses.  This involves the horse or pony being controlled by a handler via a long lunge rein.   The horse moves in a fairly small circle around the handler.  The tack is also very different from the ordinary saddle and bridle as it comprises a large stiff pad which protects the horse’s back.  On top of this goes a thick roller, then a set of handles, which enable the rider to hold on in safety.

Imagine the joy as the children learn not just to ride the horse at a walk, but to kneel up and even stand up on the horse’s back.  There are usually 5 or 6 children working as a team to co-ordinate mounting and dismounting on the move – which progresses from a walk to a canter over time. Up to three riders may be on the horse’s back at one time.  The confidence and team spirit which develop result in huge benefits which are carried forward to other aspects of the child’s life.