Wooden Spoon Charity presents a Pony to RDA Coleraine

On Saturday, 21st April, RDA Coleraine were pleased to welcome representatives of the Wooden Spoon (the Rugby Charity) to their Riding Centre to present the pony, Jack, purchased with a donation of over £3000 for the Group.

Visitors to the Centre included Wooden Spoon officers- former Ireland and British Lions captain (and Wooden Spoon Ulster’s President) Willie John McBride, who is also RDANI Vice President, and Peter Wood (Wooden Spoon Chairman)- Coleraine Rugby Club Officers, Geoff Love (President) and Nigel Handsforth (Chairman), together with members of the Coleraine Rugby Club Chargers and their Coaches. Also in attendance was Lady Julie Frazer, RDANI Chairperson, the Saturday morning riding group at RDA Coleraine and their parents together with Coaches, Christine Hankin and Helen Christie, and representatives of RDA Coleraine’s Committee, its Volunteers and Helpers.

Rex Humphrey welcomed the guests and thanked the Wooden Spoon for their donation, indicating the value of donations from charities such as the Wooden Spoon to enable RDA Coleraine to provide riding opportunities to about 100 people with a disability weekly, mainly from Special Schools and Units, but also with parents on Saturdays.

Willie John McBride said that he had visited the Centre previously at the 40th Anniversary in 2015 in his role as RDANI Vice President, and was delighted to be involved in continuing to support RDA Coleraine.

Peter Wood stated that the Wooden Spoon had previously supported RDA Groups in Northern Ireland and had raised over £600,000 for Charities in his time as Chairman while Geoff Love said that he was pleased that Coleraine Rugby Club was able to support the excellent work carried out by RDA Coleraine over many years, and the connection also included ‘indoor’ training on occasions. Nigel Handsforth said he had been in regular attendance at RDA Coleraine in the past with a family member, and could testify to the value of the activities carried out.

On behalf of RDANI, Lady Julie Frazer thanked the Wooden Spoon for their support and everyone for their attendance, praising the way the organisations worked together, and looked forward to an ongoing relationship. She also said that she was delighted with the quality of the new pony, Jack, who behaved impeccably throughout the ceremony.


The Big Ride 2017


Plans have now been finalised for the the NI event to be held at Shane’s Castle on 20th August. We will have carriage drivers and riders accompanying Sam and a sponsored walk for others to enjoy. You must register if you are planning to attend- please contact rdaniregion@yahoo.co.uk for further details about the challenge you are interested in. The sponsored walk is open to everyone and we would love to see as many riders, drivers, their families and friends, volunteers- new and old- and supporters joining us on foot. Half of all money raised will stay here in NI with the rest contributing toward the fundraising for the National Training Centre in England, from which our riders, drivers and volunteers will also benefit. We look forward to seeing you all on the 20th!

RDA is hoping to create an RDA National Training Centre. This is an exciting project, which aims to benefit all of our RDA regions. The fundraising target is to raise £1 million and over £200,000 has already been donated! RDA Chairman, Sam Orde, is now undertaking a fundraising challenge involving every RDA region in the UK to raise funds for RDA and promote this project.
From April to October 2017 Sam will embark on a Big Ride RDA UK fundraising challenge, doing a long distance ride in each of the 18 regions and to be accompanied by others, including by riders or carriage drivers with disabilities for part of each ride. The NI region’s Big Ride will take place on Sunday 20th August at Shanes Castle and the planning has already started!

We would love some of our riders and drivers to come along and complete either the 15km route with Sam or a shorter version in the same stunning venue. We are also excited to invite all of our riders, drivers, volunteers, friends, families and supporters to take part in a sponsored walk on the day too. If you would like to participate in any of the above, entry forms are available from rdaniregion@yahoo.co.uk or in the documents section of this website, and the deadline is the 1st August 2017. We would love to see as many of you as possible attend this one-off RDA national event, which will raise funds for the Training Centre and your local group. It’s sure to be a fantastic day out and a great excuse for the wider RDA family to get together- don’t miss it!

New Year’s Honours 2017

Here, at the Riding for the Disabled Association Northern Ireland, we know that we would be lost without our volunteers. Over 1000 of them help us to offer weekly sessions to 1000 disabled riders and drivers every single week at 28 groups across Northern Ireland. Without them, none of what we do would be possible and we are so grateful to every one of them, from those who look after the horses and ponies to those on the Regional Committee who help us maintain our title as the busiest RDA region in the UK each year! This is why we are so pleased that two of our volunteers have had their efforts formally recognised in the New Year’s Honours list and send them our congratulations.

Avril Nicholl MBE- Ballyclare Group

I’m originally from Londonderry, moving to Ballyclare, County Antrim 48 years ago.

About 35 years ago my sister-in-law, Maureen Warwick, a member of the Mid Antrim RDA Group, invited me to join the Ballyclare Group as a helper. I was a complete novice having no experience with horses being a “city girl”. However, with the help and support of the fantastic instructors I soon learned what was required in horse and rider handling.

I’ve been Ballyclare Group organiser for around 30 years and I would like to thank everyone involved in nominating me for this accolade. This award is without doubt the highlight of my career within the RDA. Although I’m receiving the award, it’s the volunteers of the Ballyclare RDA who deserve the credit.

I am absolutely delighted and humbled at receiving this award. However, I look on it as recognition of the dedicated work we all do in the Riding for the Disabled Association.

Albert Clyde BEM- Coleraine Group

I am pleased that my colleagues have nominated me for this Award, but in reality, RDA is a Team Organisation, and I see any Award as much as a Team Award as to any individual, and as an extension of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service achieved by RDA Coleraine in 2006.

I was recruited into RDA Coleraine in 2002 soon after I retired as Director of Estates & Resources in the local college. Thanks to my role there I was suitably experienced to work with the team overseeing the planning, design, implementation and delivery of the new RDA Causeway Coast Arena Project. The new Arena enables the weekly delivery of about 100 riding opportunities to people with physical, learning, social and emotional difficulties.

The motivation to volunteer and give time to RDA Coleraine is very easy to explain. Over the years that I have been involved, I have seen more than 1000 persons with a disability attend and benefit from their involvement in RDA Coleraine- you only need to look through our many pictures of happy faces and see the delight to remain inspired to continue. I have a great respect for the many volunteers who offer their time and talents to deliver all aspects of the RDA programmes, and have made many lifelong friends through RDA Coleraine and beyond.

I hope the award will help to heighten the profile of RDA Coleraine, and encourage more volunteers and potential riders to become involved.


RDA NI Region Autumn 2016

The Autumn Training Season kicked off this year with a very exciting day learning about Equestrian Vaulting which took place at Laurel View Equestrian Centre on 12th October.

The Coaches were Margaret Morgan MBE and Rebecca Hewitt from North Berwickshire Group who kindly travelled over from Scotland to do this training for our RDA Coaches and Volunteers. They took us through all the stages necessary to become an RDA Vaulting Group, initially using a barrel then we went live with Johnny, a very well schooled horse provided by Laurel View. Most of our brave coaches had a go and were amazed at what could be achieved in a short time with good tuition.

Many thanks to Margaret and Rebecca for sharing their Expertise with us and also to Laurel Falloona and her staff at Laurel View for all their help.


A busy month of November started with Proficiency Test Examiner Training hosted by Omagh Group on the 8th. Our Regional Coach Caroline Twemlow was the Trainer and as always took great care to explain to our Examiners exactly how the new syllabus and scoring system worked so that standards will be maintained. Thank you to all who attended on a horrible wet and stormy evening. We held a similar session at Laurel View on the 22nd November hosted by Antrim Group, thank you to them for all their help and to the riders who attended both sessions and went home with rosettes and certificates as a reward for their achievements.

On 14th November over 60 RDA Coaches from the Region were joined by some RDA Ireland Coaches at Longstone RDA in Armagh for an excellent Training Day with Sue Adams Wheeler FRDA and Lynne Munro, Regional Physiotherapist who travelled from England to run this day for us. Many thanks to them and to Ruth Parker from RDA UK for organising and also to Longstone and Omagh RDA Groups for providing riders and horses for the practical sessions. We all learnt a huge amount from these very experienced coaches and hopefully the experience will benefit our riders right across the Region.



Finally a big thank you to Coleraine Group and Jane McFarlane for hosting an excellent Equine Welfare Training Session  on Saturday 19th November. This was an excellent interactive session covering lots of topics including Travelling, Tack Fitting, Health Indicators, Feeding, Rugs etc.




October 2016 Update

By now many of our groups that took the summer off will have got back into the swing of things with their weekly group sessions. In fact, many may already be looking forward to the half-term break next week! Participating in weekly riding and driving sessions, whether your riding, driving or volunteering, is such a wonderful experience and we would encourage potential participants of any kind to contact us and see how we can help you to enjoy being part of the RDA family! It is good for your fitness, on horseback or walking alongside; it is brilliant for making new friendships and it is so wonderful to give back in this way to your community.

We have so many different ways for people to get involved. Whether you enjoy working with horse or are a little apprehensive, we provide you with full training and help you every step of the way! Training is on-going as required- in fact, we have just advertised our latest dates for current volunteers in our Announcements section! If horses really aren’t your thing, we appreciate help with administrative or financial aspects of running our groups or the region. Please look at the list of our group locations and get in touch if you think you’d like to be a part of something great!

If you were in any doubt about how busy the Region has been over the last few months, take a look at our Autumn magazine! This is being distributed to our groups but if you’re not linked to a group and would like a copy, please contact rdaniregion@yahoo.co.uk




Coaching Conference 2015

Christine Hankin, Toni Alouane and Caroline Twemlow attended this year’s Coaching Conference near Stratford upon Avon.
We have brief reports below but if anyone would like more information then please contact us.

“Making a session progressive with Karen Thompson FRDA”
This was a typical RDA ride with 4 riders of different abilities. After the riders were safely mounted and girths/stirrups checked the riders were asked to warm up by obtaining a good walk without the reins, allowing the leader to take control. This allows confidence and balance to be assessed.

The arena had several cones and markers to help with circles and stopping points.
Working in “open order” each rider’s helper asked :
Can you walk around the edge of the school?
Can you stop and start at places of your choosing?
Can you turn across the school?
Can you ride a circle?
Practice this several times and in both directions with everyone changing the rein at the same time.

Working like this allows each rider to learn at their own pace and the coach can keep an overview of all the riders whilst also giving individual guidance where needed.

A useful exercise was then demonstrated:
Have a different coloured cone at A, C, E and B
Each rider starts at “their” cone, all on same rein.
The riders are asked to ride to the next cone and halt.
Once the riders can achieve this, it can be turned into a game. Ask each rider to halt at each cone for 3 secs and finish when back at their starting point. I suggest corner markers are used otherwise corners are cut!

This exercise can then be adapted for those who can trot. Walk to first cone, trot past next cone, walk at next and halt when back to starting point. These exercises encourage riders to progress at own pace improving accuracy and control. The rider interacts with their own helper and creates mutual trust and respect. Having the same helper ( personal trainer ) each week means progress can be easily monitored and the helper feels more valued and involved.

At the end of the ride each rider was asked what they would take away from the lesson. Answers included :” I shouldn’t flap my legs but whisper with them ” – ” I enjoyed my trot today ”
This was an active and enjoyable lesson to observe and each rider showed improvement.

Mechanical Horse
Kate Bailey, RDAC, Regional Coach for Northwest and centre manager for Pendle RDA
Wow! If anyone has £42,000 to spare then this is definitely a great addition to any Group!!

This life size horse (minus its legs ) can walk, trot and canter at the press of a button. It can even perform collected paces. Benefits include: can carry up to 18st, is good for rider assessment, improves mounting and dismounting methods, overcomes fear, it can be tacked up with all types of saddles, surcingles for vaulting or used bareback. It is particularly good for introducing canter in a safe environment and correcting rider’s position. There are pressure pads which indicate the distribution of the rider’s weight in the saddle.

This model came with an interactive screen whereby one could “ride” into a dressage arena to perform a test or ride over the fields and carry out some countryside challenge obstacles. You could even halt to give your horse a drink!

There are several models available and more information can be found by visiting Racewood Equestrian Simulators.


Other workshops included Doug Smith’s on equine weighing and guidelines for judging rider weights. Four horses of different conformation were presented for weight measuring with tapes. Groups were invited to discuss age, size and fitness etc before pronouncing on the horse’s weight and the RDA rider maximum weight they would allow. Generally estimates for the horse’s weight were within reasonable accuracy, while we tended to err on the side of caution for rider weight! The overall intention was to emphasise the need for groups to look at all aspects of a horse, and rider balance etc, when assessing weight bearing ability.

There was also a very pertinent workshop on Makaton for horse riding, for which a self explanatory handout was given and this will be made available.


Louise Greer of Coleraine group completing her dressage test

Riding for the Disabled Northern Ireland was delighted to see that one of their rising stars was to be awarded to the British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours list. The BEM was re-launched in 2012 and rewards a sustained, local contribution or innovative, high-impact work and Louise Greer of Coleraine RDA group has certainly fulfilled those criteria!

Louise says, “I was over the moon when I found out that I had been awarded a BEM for my work with the RDANI and Meningitis UK. At just 17 I am the youngest of this year’s Northern Irish recipients. I lost my legs and part of my left arm to meningitis when I was two and a half. I have been a rider with the Coleraine branch of RDANI for over 10 years, often representing RDA Coleraine at regional championships.”

Louise first took part at the RDA National Championships at Hartpury in 2008 as an eleven year old; she has been placed in the top ten riders every year since, including this year where she was placed second in her class. In 2011 her talent was spotted and she now trains regularly with the Irish Paralympic Fast track squad. This involves a five hour journey with her horse to Abbottstown or Spruce Lodge in County Wicklow once a month, where team trainer Donnie McNamara puts them through their paces. Considerable cost is involved in these sessions, as in all equestrian sports, as squad members have to look after their own travel, accommodation etc.

Louise’s dedication to RDA locally and regionally has been a true credit to her. However, the BEM is also awarded to her in recognition of her other role. She says, “I am also working with meningitis UK to help promote awareness of the illness and helping people who have experienced it to overcome boundaries.”

Everyone at RDANI would like to congratulate Louise on her New Year’s Honour and wish her every success for qualification for Rio 2016 and beyond- well done Louise!


RDANI Update 2014

Endurace at Gosford 1

RDANI are enjoying a busy time at the moment! In October, riders who had participated in the ILDRA/RDA endurance class at Downpatrick racecourse in April, returned to the venue for a day at the races courtesy of manager Richard Lyttle. The riders thoroughly enjoyed watching the excitement before the races and seeing the jockeys spring up onto their mounts! The thrill of the actual race and also the noise of the hooves as the horses galloped past brought smiles to the faces and there were plenty of cheers when someone’s favourite came past the winning post first. Of course we didn’t teach our participants to follow the form and place bets!!! Now when our jockeys watch racing on TV, it will bring back memories of a good day out!


RDANI is delighted to have six newly qualified RDA Coaches in our ranks. Christine Hankin (Coleraine), Gwen Garrett (Omagh), Toni Aliouane (Newtownards), Barbara Lunny (Enniskillen) and Joanne Morton and Debbie McKenna (both Longstone) all passed their exam in November and this can only be of great benefit to our riders. We are always interested to improve the service that we give to our participants and would love to hear from any one who can help us in any way.

Successful RDAC candidates

Successful RDAC candidates 2014

Training in Proficiency Test examining and Safeguarding have also kept us busy! RDA has a very interesting and progressive education programme that has something for everyone! Participants can progress through grades from 1-4, followed by the bronze silver and gold awards- the latter are few and far between as the standard is so high! The ASDAN scheme links RDA to the school curriculum and can be adapted at any level for different abilities. The newly launched Endeavour awards are proving very popular and can be for any participant who achieves something worth celebrating- this can be anything from getting onto the pony for the first time, to trotting a few strides, or completing a round of show jumping!


RDANI riders enjoy Sunny days out!

Castle Leslie was the venue for the first of two “days out” organised by the Northern Ireland Region of RDA. Seven riders accompanied by almost thirty volunteers made the trip to Co Monaghan and had a most memorable time. The estate is beautiful – our jockeys rode along lovely paths throughout the grounds and past the castle. The highlight of the day was riding through the lake which obviously was great photo opportunity! Thanks to Maeve Hannon from Enniskillen Group, a herd of cattle which appeared very interested in our entourage, were held back at a safe distance while the riders enjoyed themselves in the water. The horses and ponies were so well behaved and the staff at Castle Leslie were so helpful that it was a perfect day- even the sun shone and we were able to enjoy our picnic outdoors.


The following week another group of RDANI riders had a similar experience at Laurelview Equestrian Centre at Templepatrick. Again water seemed to play an important part in the day! Most time was spent at the water jump where the riders were able to choose different entry options. Some of the expressions on the volunteers’ faces as they got soaked were captured by Henry Doggart our fantastic photographer. Thanks to Robert, Linda and Laurel of Laurelview who helped with the planning and preparing the ponies to the usual high standard.


On both occasions, the rides were followed by a picnic and games. Ann Hanna was our entertainer assisted by Anita Lambe. Quizes and scavenger hunts were the order of the day and everyone went home with rosettes and presents as a memento of their day out. Thanks to all involved on both outings- It was a lovely opportunity to get to know volunteers from different RDANI groups and also some of the parents.


RDANI Regional Championships 2014

RDA Regional Championships 2014

The Riding for the Disabled Association in Northern Ireland held their Regional Championships on a lovely sunny day at the end of April. The Region are extremely grateful to an anonymous benefactor whose generosity supported this terrific event.
This year the championships were held at a new venue, the Meadows Equestrian Centre at Lurgan. This proved to be most successful as the excellent facilities provided room for three dressage arenas, a Countryside Challenge arena and an ample enclosed space for mounting and warming up.
The region would like to thank Hugh and Arron McCusker from the Meadows for all their help and for making the organisers, riders and helpers feel most welcome.
Another first was having a marquee available in which to hold the prize giving and provide space for RDA information displays which were organised by visiting National Office representative, Fiona Kendrick and Education co-ordinator Gwen Garrett. We were delighted Shane Mulryan came to show the adapted tack that he will make which can help riders improve their riding skills. The popular stable management quiz was also held in the marquee along with the huge array of entries for the arts and crafts competition. These proved a colourful backdrop and the standard of entries was extremely high. Well done to all the groups who encouraged their participants to get out their paints, collage and sculpturing materials. Holywood artist, Carol McEvoy , kindly judged the work and took time to give encouraging remarks to every entry.
The day ran like clockwork thanks to the superb organising skills of Claire Walker. The dressage judges were once again impressed by the standard of turnout and riding skills demonstrated. A huge thank you to dressage judges, Alison Mastin Moore, Sally Hodgkinson and Ivor Harper and their scribes and scorers for their time and dedication to help RDANI. Also the turnout judges, Anne Kerr and Elizabeth Jess who examined every horse and rider in detail in order to determine the winners.
Heather Parker had taken on the role of organising the Countryside Challenge classes and she built a magnificent course which tested the riders ability to, for example – steer along roads, open a gate, pick an apple from a tree and drop it in a bucket- an enjoyable competition to complement the more serious dressage. Thank you to the judges, Daphne Montelone and Nicola Conner.
Riders came from all over the Province to compete and many groups were represented.  The winners of qualifying classes will hopefully plan a trip to Hartpury in Gloucestershire for the National RDA Championships in July.
None of this would have been possible without the huge party of volunteers to set up, dismantle and steward the event, thank you to everyone and see you next year!


Lynne Munro Visits RDANI

Lynne Munro Visit

In March RDA Northern Ireland was delighted to welcome Lynne Munro-one of RDA’s most respected physiotherapists- to the Province. Lynne gave a series of lectures at several venues during her two day trip. Over 80 delegates from most the Region’s groups attended. Lynne gave advice on pre riding assessments- necessary to ascertain the individual needs of each rider who wants to join an RDA group. She also discussed contra indications- situations when riding would not be suitable.  Groups were able to ask individual questions relating to riders in their groups with specific difficulties.
RDANI would be very interested to hear from any physiotherapists who may be interested in assisting RDA. We would especially like to know if anyone would be interested in the Hippotherapy training provided by ACPTR. Please contact Regional Chairman, Julie Jordan rdaniregion@yahoo.co.uk


RDANI Show Jumping 2014

Show Jumping 2014

On April 9th Riding for the Disabled Association Northern Ireland held its first Regional Show Jumping qualifier. Over 20 riders took part in what promises to be a growing sport within our organisation. The competition at all three levels was fantastic and all of the riders can be very pleased with their performances in this new RDANI activity. Judges Vina Buller and Hilary Jones were very impressed by the high standards of jumping and also the efforts that the riders had gone to with their turnout.
Several of our riders have now qualified for the RDA national Show Jumping finals in Hartpury in July. We wish them well and look forward to following their progress! Many thanks to Christopher Bogel and Claire Walker who organised proceedings.

John Robinson Visits RDANI

John Robinson Visit

John Robinson, a distinguished dressage judge, travelled from England this weekend to train RDANI Volunteers and Judges. Laurelview Equestrian centre was the venue and Robert and Linda Davis supplied a variety of suitable horses and ponies for our riders.  On Saturday RDA Instructors learnt more about competitive dressage riding and the requirements that the judges look for. Most had the Regional dressage qualifiers on April 30th at the forefront of their minds, at which our riders will be competing to ride at Hartpury this summer.

On Sunday afternoon, it was the turn of the Judges, who watched a variety of RDANI riders with widely differing disabilities and compared and discussed their scores.  It was an interesting and informative session with lots of interaction between all –including the riders.
RDANI would love to hear form anyone who may be interested in becoming a dressage Judge. Please contact Regional Chairman Julie Jordan at


Current News & Developments

Rachael’s Rally 2013

Rachael Beattie rode with Craigantlet group over 10 years ago, however her parents Paddy and Roberta still continue to support the work that RDANI do. Every year they organise “Rachel’s Rally”, a charity fundraising event held at Cushendun caravan park, and make a generous donation to Craigantlet group. This event has grown rapidly over the years and a large number of charities have benefitted from their hard work and dedication and the support of their many friends. The photo shows the Rally participants of 2013. RDA Craigantlet would like to thank the Beatties for their continuing donations and support and look forward to using the money to help many other riders.”


Newtownards RDANI Group celebrate 25 years

Newtownards RDA Group celebrate 25 years

Newtownards  Riding for the Disabled Group celebrated 25 years with a recent outing to Castle Leslie in Monaghan.

11 volunteers from the Group enjoyed an hour long ride in beautiful surroundings before sitting down for a lovely lunch in the sun. Three members have been involved from the start, Penny Rawlings, Lynne McCombe and Caroline Twemlow.  These members were delighted to receive their 25 year badges from HRH The Princess Royal at the Region’s Conference in March.

The Newtownards Group also have one “original” rider and that is Alice Sharkey.

Original Rider Alice Sharkey

We have seen many changes over the years but essentially the friendship and desire to see the riders achieve their potential has never changed so here’s to the next 25 years!!!!

Newtownards Volunteers


Carriage Driving returns to RDANI

Carriage Driving returns to Riding for the Disabled Association

Enthusiasm and fun were the order of the day at the recent Open Evening at Ballyward RDANI Driving Group. Ballyward is RDA NI’s newest group, and only began in April. Since then, they have given huge enjoyment to eight disabled drivers from the surrounding area. The evening was an opportunity to thank all those who have supported them along the way. Drives take place on Tuesday evenings at Uel and Joanne Orr’s farm and the group hopes to continue throughout the autumn for as long as daylight allows!
Approximately fifty people attended the event which began with the drivers demonstrating the skills that they have learnt while negotiating a course of cones. All the drivers were presented with rosettes and also RDA Grade 1 driving proficiency certificates. Special guest was Margaret Brockie, the Chairman of the RDA Carriage Driving committee, who travelled from England for the evening. She was most impressed with the group and by how much progress that they have made in a short time.

The evening concluded with a BBQ, auction and raffle. The group would like to thank all those who donated prizes for the evening, especially, Jacksons’ Hotel Ballybofey, The Slieve Donard and Belmont hotels, The Works Hair studio and Fresh Foods in Castlewellan.
Julie Jordan, Regional Chairman of RDA NI is delighted with Ballyward Group’s progress and wishes them well for the future. A huge thank you must go to Joanne and Uel Orr and their wonderful committee for ensuring the success of this vibrant group. If anyone would like to support Ballyward RDA Driving Group, please contact Joanne Orr on 028 4065 0436.


MBE Award

Jennifer Eitel Awarded MBE

Jennifer Eitel, Moy RDA group’s longest serving member at 38 years, was recently awarded and MBE for her services to local charities, including RDA. Her group organiser, Ann Magowan says “she is a tireless and dedicated worker and I know I would be totally lost without her as our Treasurer”


RDA Conference 2013

RDANI hold Successful Regional Conference

After months of hard work and preparation, the Riding for the Disabled’s Northern Ireland Regional Conference was held last week at the Templeton hotel in Templepatrick. RDANI was honoured to welcome the charity’s president, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, as a very special guest. She was able to present 36 awards to our longest serving volunteers. Her Royal Highness has been involved with the charity since 1971 and champions the charity’s work as a nationwide organisation, visiting RDA Groups as often as she can.

At the Conference HRH, The Princess Royal spoke to the delegates about what the RDA means to her. The same topic was taken up by a rider, holiday volunteer and committee member, among others.  Other speakers included Alison Mastin Moore, who has been involved with training RDA Riders, instructors and judges over many years, and she told attendees about “the happy athlete”. Joseph Murphy shared some of his Olympic memories from London 2012 where he competed as a member of the Irish Three-Day-Event team.

HRH, The Princess Royal, told over 250 RDA volunteers how important it was to continue to challenge perceived boundaries and keep building on what has been achieved by both the charity and its riders thus far. She told everyone that the riders need volunteers to continue to commit with their time and enthusiasm, “We’ve made a difference and seen riders change and achieve- let’s try to say that every week.”

After the excitement of the Royal visit in the morning, everyone travelled the short distance to Laurelview Equestrian Centre for the afternoon programme. East Antrim RDA group performed a musical ride choreographed by Caroline Twemlow. The children rode really well considering that they had missed a couple of weeks of school due to a Legionnaires’ disease scare!  Thanks to Claire Walker and her willing band of helpers for all their hard work.

Bobby McAllister of Newtownards group kept up with the “Trot on” theme and demonstrated a dressage test at the trot. However, after seeing Berwickshire RDA he may have preferred to have been taking part in the next demonstration!

Berwickshire RDA Vaulting group were invited to come over from Scotland
to demonstrate their skills. Equestrian vaulting is essentially gymnastics on the back of a horse moving at either walk or canter. The origins can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans when it was mainly for recreational purposes. Up until the 1930’s the British cavalry used vaulting to teach soldiers how to catch and get onto the nearest horse in the heat of battle, but as the army mechanised, vaulting stopped.  Vaulting offers a different dimension to riders, giving the freedom to move around the horse, make their own decisions and risk assessments it is especially effective when working with those from the autistic spectrum.

Berwickshire RDA had planned to bring their experienced vaulting hose, Big Guinness, with them, but due to three feet of snow at home they decided to borrow a horse at Laurelview. Bridget, belonging to Robert and Linda Davis, performed beautifully considering she had only been introduced to vaulting that morning!  Rebecca Hewitt did a marvellous job with her three experienced vaulters- Jamie, Alice and Christopher- and also with absolute newcomers- Charlie from Antrim group and Jill from Banbridge and Moira. RDA Chairman Mrs. Sam Orde presented all the participants rosettes and Easter Eggs

Thanks must go to HRH, the Princess Royal, the staff at the Templeton and everyone who helped to make the day run so smoothly, especially Regional Chairperson, Julie Jordan. Well done to all involved and if you would be interested in hearing more about the conference or would like to volunteer with the RDA at any of our 28 groups throughout the province, please check out our website at www.ridingforthedisabledni.org.uk or contactrdaniregion@yahoo.co.uk

L-R Chief Executive Ed Bracher, President HRH Princess Anne, Regional Chairman Julie Jordan and RDA Chairman Sam Orde at the Conference

The Princess Royal, enjoying the speakers at the conference

The Princess Royal, meets RDANI’s publicity team (L-R Publicity Officer Katie Uprichard, Magazine Editor Rebecca Kincade and Austen Burns)

The Princess Royal, meets RDANI’s publicity team (L-R Publicity Officer Katie Uprichard, Magazine Editor Rebecca Kincade and Austen Burns)


New RDA Driving Group in Ballyward


The Riding for Disabled Association uses horses and ponies to provide therapy, achievement and enjoyment to people all over the UK. The RDA has been carrying out their life changing activities for over 40 years with a network of 500 volunteer groups organising a range of equestrian activities such as riding, vaulting and carriage driving for up to 28,000 people each year.
Carriage driving specifically has been a part of the RDA since 1975 with almost 70 groups giving opportunities to over 1000 drivers. Driving is particularly useful for people who can no longer ride due to disability or prefer a different kind of challenge, it gives an enormous amount of pleasure to the people whose activities can be limited by their age, weight and nature of their disability but who welcome an opportunity to enjoy an activity with animals.
The only driving group of the RDA in NI is based in Omagh. For this reason a group of volunteers and established drivers have embraced the task of founding a new driving group based in Ballyward, Co Down. Some already have experience and qualifications; the founding chairperson is Joanne Orr, who runs a commercial carriage driving business and, as a qualified driving teacher, will provide some of her experienced horses and expertise.
For example, Bob is a traditional cob with a lot of character and a laid back personality who has spent most of his life helping people to learn to drive and gaining confidence at competitions and shows. He is now enjoying learning the new techniques required to be an RDA pony.
Currently the group has several vehicles, including one for wheelchair users, but are fundraising to purchase a larger, four wheeled vehicle that could take wheelchairs and also be used to provide pleasure drives for small groups.
The volunteers are currently undertaking the necessary training to be able to provide this rewarding resource. The group plans at present to run every Tuesday evening, starting in April.
RDA activities range from people enjoying short drives as passengers to actively driving horses and ponies. The group hopes at a later stage to encourage drivers to participate in public events, such as demonstrations at agricultural and driving shows. Some experienced disabled drivers have progressed to fully participating in carriage driving shows and competitions.
The group would like to encourage any disabled person who is interested to contact them. No previous experience of riding, carriage driving or working with horses is required as thorough training is provided.
Joanne Orr
Group Chairperson, Ballyward RDA Driving Group
54 Clanmaghery Road, Ballyward, BT31 9SA
Tel. No.: 028 40650436 E-mail.: joorr@btinternet.com


Clive Milkin’s Visit

Clive Milkin’s Visit

RDA NI region were very fortunate to have a visit from Clive Milkins recently. Clive was the trainer responsible for helping Sophie Christiansen win three gold medals at last year’s London Paralympics.  He also coaches several other successful riders-both able bodied and disabled. His passion and enthusiasm shone through and spectators enjoyed every minute of the session despite the cold!

At walk, the body uses almost one thousand individual muscles to stay balanced in the saddle. As most RDA rides are spent at a walk, it is important that we make the pace as beneficial as possible. The rhythm of each horse will be the same; however the tempo will differ with different animals. Using the acronym Rhythm Makes Your Two Hips Move, Clive repeated the importance of straightness and balance and the effect of that on the rider’s back. He demonstrated with riders form Newtownards group RDA- one of whom, Austen Burns, is on the Irish Paralympic training panel for Rio 2016.

The session was informative but also entertaining- horsey people use very odd terms, especially for disabled people, such as “go large”, ”Change the rein”, “green horse” etc. Our Instructors learnt a lot from Clive and RDA riders beware- your lessons are going to become very hard work in the future!


Current News & Developments
There have been several new developments within the RDA. Please see the Documents section for information on the following:-

– Rider Classification for the National Championships

– Education Moderation 2013

– National Holiday Opportunities

– Carriage Driving Newsletter, January 2013

Current News & Development


New tracker to measure therapeutic outcomes for the first time
RDA has launched a pilot scheme to track the therapeutic outcomes of its activities. Within a four month period of regular riding, the ‘RDA Tracker’ will measure change in six areas: communication, confidence, enjoyment, relationships, physical changes and horsemanship. Nine RDA Groups have been selected for the pilot project, which starts now and ends in April.
While anecdotal evidence, independent research and expert testimonial all exist to support the benefits of RDA’s activities, this is the first time the charity will have systematically assessed the therapeutic outcomes for children of different ages and abilities. The aim of the pilot will be to assess the effectiveness of the Tracker as a tool for capturing information, as well as to road-test its ‘usability’ before a final version can be rolled to RDA’s 500 Groups across the UK.
“It will be very interesting to discover the effectiveness of our first attempt to systematically measure the difference riding with RDA can make to children’s lives,” says Denise Robertson, RDA’s Head of Therapy. “We want to make sure that young riders get as much as they can out of their time with us, from improved health to more confidence as they learn new skills, make friends and have fun. There is no doubting the difference RDA activities make to the lives of our riders, but now we will be able to back it up with evidence.”


RDA Press Release

RDA Press Release

“Meaningful Paralympic legacy must mean greater capacity” says Charity Chief Executive

Call for volunteers and donations to help meet demand

As the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) celebrates the success of its riders in the Paralympics- and with Gold medal winners such as Sophie Christiansen and Natasha Baker providing such inspiration- RDA is calling for more volunteers and funds to help increase capacity in its riding centres across the UK.

Four out of five of the GB Paralympics team for para-equestrian dressage started their equestrian careers with the support of the RDA. In interview, triple gold medallist Sophie Christiansen told reporters, “much of the success is due to the RDA at the grass-roots level. We wouldn’t be in the position we are now without the RDA, and I hope it inspires people to take up the sport.”

RDA relies on voluntary help and donations to support the work of its 500 riding and carriage driving groups throughout the UK. Currently, for every one person who rides with RDA, there are approximately four on the waiting list.

“The Public’s support for the Paralympics, and for Para-Equestrianism specifically, has been amazing,” said RDA Chief Executive, Ed Bracher. “The British team demonstrated just what can be achieved- inspiring more people to take up the sport or to aim for the very top. We are absolutely determined to help build a robust and meaningful legacy by enabling more people to take up riding, but we can’t do this without more support and resources. About 28,000 riders and carriage drivers of all ages and abilities enjoy RDA activities, and we are indebted to the thousand of volunteers across the UK who give their time to make this possible; but we need more.

“I would urge anyone who has enjoyed the success of riders like Sophie and Natasha to get involved with their local RDA group, and help us provide more opportunities for people to achieve amazing things.”

To find your nearest RDA group or make a donation, visit www.rda.org.uk or in Northern Ireland visit www.ridingforthedisabledni.org.uk


Horses in Education and Therapy International

Horses in Education and Therapy International

HETI Conference 11.10.12

Claire Walker recently attended the HETI conference in Bristol and has written up a very informative report which can be found in the ‘Documents’ section of our website.

The conference focused on several different areas including the importance of research within the RDA. Individual groups are encouraged to do their own research, either for their own benefit or to be shared with others. If a Group would like help with this, they can contact Denise Robertson at National Office.

A demonstration of the Alexander Technique greatly impressed Claire. She hopes that if anyone in Northern Ireland practices the technique over here, they will get in touch to pass on their expertise to the RDA groups here. After use of the technique, there was a marked improvement in the riders which followed through to their horses. Balance was improved immediately, rather than taking weeks of consistent training.

Positive attitudes and attainable goals are obvious within the RDA and we should all focus on these, helping every rider to improve in every session. These improvements do not need to be huge- no matter how tiny, they should be celebrated. Lets listen to our riders, help them set their own achievable targets and goals rather than deciding on what we think is best and watch them progress!


RDA Coaching Conference 2012

RDA Coaching Conference 2012 Warwickshire

This year’s conference was attended by Julie Jordan, Hilary Jones, Caroline Twemlow and Nicky Conner. Each of our representatives wrote a report on their experience and these can all be found in the “Documents” section of our website. For a brief outline of lessons learned, please see below:-

Give the Horse a Chance
RDA was described as a triangle of horse, rider and volunteers. The horse was described as the “base on which we all rely” and it was pointed out that there is currently no scheme for profiling or grading RDA ponies. An advisory board has recently been set up to look at horse buying, profiling, training and welfare. Focus was also put on getting a pony used to change and not avoiding the same. It was pointed out that there is no such thing as a good RDA horse but that a good horse is a good horse. To get the best out of our ponies we must be consistent in what we expect from them.

RDA Therapy Project
There is currently no research on the benefits provided to our riders by being a part of RDA. Although it can be obvious how much enjoyment and confidence some riders get from their time on horseback, is that enough? For potential investors or donors the more information about the benefits of our work we can provide, the more likely they might be to consider investing in our goals. There would be difficulties regarding the changing groups of riders, measuring happiness and achievements and in the logistics of gathering the information but a pilot scheme is being planned to look at these.

The influence of special equipment
It is vital for horse and rider that firm and steady contact is maintained through the reins. Instructors need to be aware of how a rider’s disability may affect this connection- do they have even strength in each arm? Can they maintain that contact for the length of a rider? What movement is there in each arm? To combat any difficulties in this area, the use of special reins could help.

Proficiency test standards
The importance of consistency cannot be underestimated regarding proficiency tests. Riders need to know what to expect in order to properly train and prepare and examiners need to know what to look for. The group organiser must also be aware as the pony chosen must be able to perform to the standard of the test being taken. RDANI want as many riders as possible to aim for these goals and all groups should know what to expect for their riders.

Understanding our riders’ needs
Riders who have been paralysed and have got back on the horse, literally, have been shown to make great progress by being able to relate their RDA riding experience to that prior to their accidents. Children with sever muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy can benefit from back-riding. This involves riding with a child on the horse. Unfortunately this can only be carried out by a qualified physio in this area so few groups are able to offer this wonderful opportunity. Holding your arms out in riding position for a long period can be difficult, so instructors should keep this in mind and allow riders to take breaks in hold as they consider necessary.

Julie Jordan, Nicky Conner, Caroline Twemlow and Hilary Jones at the Coaching Conference