Cormac Daly, dad to Grace who rides with Newtownards group

Well that is certainly what RDA does for our daughter Grace.

Our journey to Hartpury began with a phone call out of the blue from Elizabeth Gibson. She asked if our daughter Grace would represent Newtownards group at Hartpury College. Our initial and shocked response was to think that Elizabeth had phoned the wrong number!

To understand our reaction you need to realise that up to that point all that we knew was that Grace rode with RDA once a week with Torbank Special Needs School.  If we asked about it she would smile and say “I love horses and love riding”, but there was no mention of having done really well in competitions!

When Grace was younger, she rode at a local equestrian centre until a brain tumour changed her life and she was unable to participate in group lessons. Last year Grace transferred to Torbank where she was given the opportunity to ride horses again with Newtownards RDA. She was delighted to be back in the saddle!

Ana, mother of Maria who rides at Roe Valley RDA

My name is Ana. I have two children, María and Raúl. María has a rare chromosome disorder which makes her truly unique. She is the only one in the world, so far. She was born in 2000 but was only diagnosed in 2012. To say that she had a bumpy start to life is an understatement. She is a true survivor and has proven wrong to every prognosis the doctors made when she was born. According to them, she would not live to see the age of two and she would be attached to a bed for the rest of her life.

María loves animals and was particularly drawn to dogs and horses. I took her to horse-riding lessons in our local stables in Derry, Northern Ireland when her little brother was born. I was running alongside a horse and rushing home to nurse an infant! Although, María loved being with the horses there was something missing. At this stage, María had not been diagnosed yet. She was nine years old.

As a result of her diagnosis, I got in touch with Unique, an organisation for rare chromosome families. They put María’s chromosome disorder in a database so that parents can get in touch with us if they happen to have a child with a similar disorder. They also issue a magazine. It was there that I found out about RDA.

I drive María every other Thursday to the Roe Valley RDA group. The staff is welcoming, caring and thoughtful. Little by little they are getting use to my southern Spanish sense of humour! You need to have a good sense of humour to get through life especially if you have a child with special needs.

I must say that I would have never got near a horse had not been for María. Last May she was awarded the Riding-Grade 1 after taking a Proficiency Test. It was one of the proudest moments for me. She truly earned this one.

What has the RDA meant to María’s life? She has improved her balance, her toileting skills, her patience, her focus, attention, her listening skills… The list goes on. I would like to emphasise that the RDA is not a respite club where you leave your child for an hour. You need to get involved and run along the horse to make sure that there are three people with your child when riding. You are also there when the staff and children are being assessed.

Driving through the snow on a winter’s evening can be a bit daunting… but I look at the long-term benefits for María and it makes everything worthwhile.

I am delighted that I came across the RDA and words cannot express my gratitude towards them as an organisation and , in particular, to the staff and volunteers in Roe Valley. Well done, everyone!

Grace McSorley, Rider at Omagh group
RDA makes everything possible.

Zoe O’Malley, Rider at Omagh group 
When people walk through the door at Omagh RDA, they are immediately helped physically and mentally. Nobody goes out without realising what RDA has done for them. RDA improves everyone’s quality of life.

Breige Conway, Rider at Longstone group 
I don’t care if I never win anything. It’s getting on the horse that counts.

Enthusiastic Enniskillen Volunteers! 
Shirley Scott joined RDA about 16 years ago when she and her husband moved to Co. Fermanagh and she had more free time. She has always been involved with horses and says that the pleasure or working with children who are disabled is very rewarding, especially when you see the smiles on their faces.

About 13 years ago Barbara Lunny saw an article in a magazine about the Enniskillen group. When she later sold a puppy to Lorraine Mannix, our current County Chairman, Lorraine talked to Barbara about joining and she has been involved ever since. She brings one of our ponies, Bandit each week and is now one of our brilliant instructors.

Marina Kidney, who leads the Enniskillen Group, was invited to join in about 1985 when her daughter started school, her son started playgroup and she had some free time in the mornings. She has become more and more involved as the years have gone by and enjoys seeing the children develop skills and have fun at the sessions. She says she feels so lucky, to be involved with the children at Enniskillen group.

Rider Lucy Best speaks about her RDA experience with Banbridge and Moira Group 
My best thing about RDA is making friends. They are called Julie and also Shirley, Isabel and Anne. Me and Eleanor and also Morgan, Jill and Gizele are brilliant riders for Banbridge and Moria group. We are the greatest riders for our favourite instructors.

The best thing about RDA is being picked for Dublin horse show. The show was really great to ride at and made everyone proud especially my Mum, Dad and my cousin Claire who made a DVD of me riding Midnight, who was the horse I rode. I also did another competition, it was the dressage. I rode Julie’s horse Frostie, he did really well because I rode really well.

Teacher Madeline Tunney shares her experience with RDA Strabane 
Working with ponies through the RDA was very enjoyable. We found that as the children bonded and formed partnerships with the ponies, it helped to build their confidence and self-esteem. Ponies are responsive to both verbal and non-verbal cues, which is ideal for our non-verbal children.

Working with ponies also provided a great sensory experience- the children enjoyed the rhythm provided by the movement, the scent of the horses and the feel of their coats and coarse manes.

Riding gives children a sense of control, allows them to feel brave and provides them with a sense of achievement. This was a great opportunity for our children and would not be possible without the Strabane group and the wonderful facilities at Ashlee Riding Centre.

Riders at Newry RDA Group from St Joseph ’s Convent Primary School tell us why they love RDA
Jack Smith (P7) ‘I like jumping and trotting on the horse. I also like telling the horse to stay by saying whoa.’

Conor Reavey (P7) ‘ My favourite horse is Jasper. I can climb onto it. I like leading and walking on my own. I also like trotting.’

Ryan Conachy (P7) ‘I like trotting instead of walking because the horse goes faster. I enjoy chatting to the volunteers, they are friendly.’

Courtney (P7) ‘I like jumping over the pole and I like walking and trotting. I enjoy telling the horse to walk on. I like petting the horse to walk on. I like petting the horse and the horse putting his head on my shoulder. My favourite horse is Paddy.’

Volunteering at the National Championships 
My name is Hyeonsuk Jeong from South Korea and I have been working in Comphill Glencraig for 1 year as a volunteer worker. In July 2012, I went to the RDA National Championships to look after rider, Bobby McAllister. Before I decided to come along and help Bobby, I was quite worried because I had never had any experience with horses before. But during the time, I really enjoyed things we did such as watching vaulting, the London-Norwich Royal Mail coach display, show jumping and especially the disco!

I was very impressed by one blind lady. She couldn’t see anything but she managed to ride her horse and even do show jumping! I couldn’t imagine how hard she had to practice, how much she had exerted herself for a achievement of her dream. When her show jumping was finished, everybody gave her big hand and she seemed very happy. I thought this big achievement had given her confidence and self-satisfaction.

Bobby too seemed very confident and happy whenever he was with his horse even though this time, he didn’t win. As another rider said to Bobby, we didn’t need to win every time. Through this fulfilling experience, every rider felt happy and developed in different ways. That was the most important thing I suppose. I was delighted to be there. I’m going back to South Korea next month but this experience has meant a lot to me. I won’t ever forget this fantastic, unique memory with RDA at the National Championships. Thanks very much for giving me such a great chance.

Competing for RDANI at the Championships in England 
My time at Hartpury for the RDA National Championships 2012 was a great experience for me. It was my first time taking part in the national championships, although I did not win my class I had fun and enjoyed riding Duke who was a nice calm horse, and meeting people from other RDA’s. Seeing all the different events that other RDA’s take part in was very interesting, I hope to be able to take part again in the future.

By James Christie

My trip to Hartpury this summer was fun. I was doing my dressage test on Maisie, who was a very quiet mare. It was fun to meet new people and to spend time with Louise ‘my twin’ and all the other RDA people that were on the trip. We had fun on the mini bus and walking around the stalls,as well as looking at the other riders and their horses. The disco was a laugh and it was great to see everyone dressed in gold. The weather was not great but the company made up for it. I look forward to hopefully going again next year and hope to place better.

By Tobin Greer

Conor McSherry, Rider with Bangor RDA 
I am Conor.

Every Monday I go with Tor Bank School to Birr House for horse riding. My horse is called Robbie. There are lots of ladies who help us every week. They are very kind and even give us juice and biscuits.

On the horses we play games. One day I made an extra effort at the beanbag races and I won. It was fun.

Emma Dougan, 16, Holiday Volunteer 
For me the most rewarding thing was the realisation of the benefit of the work of the RDA and the confidence it gives to the disabled riders. I have volunteered in other organisations before but this was my first time with the RDA- it was fantastic.

The first part of the week was for the children; every morning all of the volunteers including myself walked alongside the riders and their horses. It was a really lovely start to the day, especially as the walk had a view overlooking the sea. After this walk we all got together and enjoyed a picnic as well as playing games. From here the riders went trekking though the fields. Also included was a gymkhana and many of the riders enjoyed the competition, however because everybody tried equally hard all riders were awarded a ribbon along with a prize.

A great part of the week was the evening entertainment where everyone gathered together and enjoyed various activities ranging from quizzes to racing wooden horses. We also had a visit from George Jones from Radio Ulster who played the guitar for us and everyone joined in singing; it was a brilliant evening and a fantastic way to end the week.

I enjoyed my time with both the children and adult riders as well as getting to know their carers and the other volunteers. It was such a rewarding experience and you really felt you were helping others. Getting to know the people was so fulfilling with both riders and helpers having such great personalities. I plan to volunteer again for next years RDA holiday and would encourage others to do so.

Thank you to Joy Silcock from Downpatrick Group for this poem –Give thanks to all those volunteers

Who, in this world of ours,

Give up, sometimes for many years

Their precious leisure hours.

Their services are freely given,

And often with a smile.

Moved on by their good nature,

They go that extra mile.

June Close, Rider, Minnowburn Group 
“When the doctors told me I had a massive stroke and was paralysed down the right hand side, in my eyes, that was me finished. How could I go on and what type of life would I have now?
I was introduced to the RDA by my support teams and although I had never been on a horse in my life I took to it like a duck to water.
All I have to say to people in the same situation as me is don’t feel like you are on your own because out there are friends that you haven’t met yet and they will be good for you. If I hadn’t got out there with the RDA I wouldn’t have known what was to come in my life.”
Emma Small, Parent of rider at Craigantlet group
“I have noticed a change in Aodhan since he started horse riding, he is more confident in himself and speaks his mind more. Also the staff in his school have seen a change in him as well going from being very quiet to being more chatty – especially on the bus to and from horse riding!
I would like to thank the Craigantlet RDA for giving Aodhan this wonderful experience.”
Joyce Dunlop, Chairman, Craigantlet Group 
“At Craigantlet we had a little girl who suddenly stopped talking. For months no-one could get her to speak, but one morning she began to say a few words while patting the pony she was riding. When she arrived home her mother could not believe she had got her talkative daughter back. To me there would be a BIG gap in my life if I did not have RDA. “
Julie Jordan, RDA NI Regional Chairman, Banbrigde and Moira Group
“In 20 years we have helped many riders with a huge range of disabilities; from those with visual impairments, road accident victims, people injured in the troubles to those with physical problems. Here’s to the next 20 years.”