Riding Develops Ability (RDA) is a not-for-profit organisation that assists people with various disabilities to develop their equestrian skills. RDA has been operating in Victoria since 1970. There are currently 37 centres, 1200 riders and 800 volunteers in Victoria.
Ann McCluskey has been involved with RDA in Doveton since 1991. She grew up on a farm in New Zealand and has always loved riding. After completing the NCAS coach accreditation program she trained to become a hippo-therapist, which involves using the movement of horses to provide therapy to people.
After years of being involved with RDA, Ann now helps out on a weekly basis.
I go on a Tuesday when I can to help out in the lessons. I also go when I’m asked to consult regarding the positioning of riders or equipment needed for a particular disability, says Ann.
The RDA helps riders who may lack hand control, have poor trunk or head control, or display behavioural problems.
Riders who lack hand control can be assisted to hold a handle on special adaptive gear. RDA also has equipment that can be placed in front of the rider to rest their hands on, or behind the rider to provide trunk support. There is also a hoist at Doveton to assist riders who have difficulties mounting the horse. Helping riders with behavioural problems may involve employing various distraction techniques, or increasing the pace of the horse. Volunteers are trained to use all adaptive gear safely and effectively.
Benefits of horse riding
According to Ann,
a horse is a wonderful therapeutic tool.
Sitting on a moving horse can have several benefits, particularly for people with disabilities. The body has to continually adjust to the movement of the horse and this can strengthen core trunk muscles and improve posture. Riding can also improve the mobilisation of the pelvis, lumbar spine and hip joints, control of the head and trunk as well as breathing and speech.
For many riders simply being on a horse is a pleasurable and enjoyable experience. Learning to ride to the best of their ability often provides them with a sense of achievement and boosts self-esteem. It can also increase their interest in the world around them as they discover another way of engaging with life.
Ann speaks highly of the benefits to coaches and volunteers too.
I’ve met many wonderful and dedicated people during my time with RDA and have made lifelong friendships. RDA is a great organisation and the centres are almost entirely run by volunteers.