Meet the 50 Faces Breaking Down Barriers
Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is celebrating 50 years of achievement, therapy and fun through horses with a stunning online collection of portraits and stories from all over the UK.
Designed to challenge preconceptions about disability, volunteering and the world of horses, 50 faces is a celebration of the brilliant, fearless and pioneering people who make up the RDA family.
Right from the start, RDA has helped to open up the world of horses to everyone. The charity’s radical mission in 1969 that ‘no disabled person who could benefit from riding shall be denied the opportunity of doing so’ was the start of a quiet revolution that is still breaking down barriers today.
50 Faces acknowledges and celebrates RDA’s impact on people’s lives, regardless of age or background, from those who horse ride and carriage drive for life changing therapy, to the Paralympians who started their journey with their local RDA group.
“In our 50th year we want people outside of RDA to feel that they can get involved, and that means everyone. 50 Faces is about saying: if you think you know who takes part in horse sport – think again!” says RDA UK Communications Manager Caroline Ward.
“RDA has spent 50 years breaking down the barriers to participation, championing the goals and achievements of disabled people and welcoming volunteers and supporters from all walks of life. By reading just a few of the stories behind the people, hopefully we can inspire more people to join in.”
Among the 50 faces are Paralympian Sophie Christiansen CBE, Eventer Bill Levett’s son Josh, renowned jockey Tyrone Williams and Countryfile ‘Farming hero’ Julia Evans.
The campaign also features a Bolivian basketball player, a Hollywood stunt double, a motor racing coach, a horse racing nun and the woman who overcame all the odds to start Riding for the Disabled in Russia.
Explore the 50 faces project at www.rda.org.uk/50-faces
Meet RDA volunteer, trustee and rider, Colin Duthie, Carrick RDA, Scotland
“At the age of 20, I was run over by a lorry. I suffered horrendous injuries - including an above knee amputation.
“My first experience of horse riding was through my local RDA. To say it was a profound experience would be an understatement. Horse riding really did save my life. You have to understand, at that time I was in a very bad way, both physically and mentally mainly due to not being able to walk.
“However, going from losing one leg to gaining four when riding was very cool, plus being on horseback was the only time I was out of pain. RDA gave me the confidence to challenge myself and others and put me on the path I am on now – living life to the full whilst helping others along the way.
“Since then, I’ve done a wheelchair ascent of Ben Nevis, helped achieve a new world record for a team of wheelchair users pulling a Boeing 757, set up the South Ayrshire Tigers Powerchair Football Club and been on several long distance motorbike rallies for charity.
“I’ve been a motorsport fanatic my whole life, but I never thought I’d get my race license and actually start racing – especially as a 54 year old lower limb amputee. I’m the first disabled driver ever to race in Super Lap Scotland. It was a dream come true. I’m also the first disabled person in the UK to become a Level 2 Motorsport Coach. In 2016 I helped set up the charity Disability Motorsport Scotland and so far we’ve arranged track days for over 130 disabled people as drivers and passengers.
“I’m also now Chairman of Carrick RDA, where my life started again, way back in 1996. The last 35 years have been one heck of a rollercoaster – but I’d rather have the ups and downs than going nowhere. THANK YOU RDA, from the bottom of my heart, and from all my family and friends too. Here’s to the next 50 years.”
Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things
Volunteers are at the very heart of the success of Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), and are the glue that binds every aspect of the charity together.
Every year, Volunteers’ Week (June 1-7) provides a chance to celebrate the amazing contribution that is made by ordinary people from every walk of life who give up their valuable time to benefit others.
But, as a recent RDA report found, volunteering doesn’t just benefit the participants but has a huge role to play in tackling loneliness and mental health, helping people gain more perspective and become less inward focused.
There are many different roles fulfilled by volunteers, without whom the charity wouldn’t be able to carry out its life-changing work. From people on the ground assisting riders at RDA Groups up and down the country to the dedicated fund-raisers, whose constant determination ensures the books balance, volunteers are vital.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of RDA in 2019, their 50 Faces campaign is telling the story of 50 volunteers, members and participants, to highlight their fantastic achievements.
Here we meet one of the 50 Faces, volunteer, Doug Smith, who is testament to the fact that volunteering with RDA could lead to exciting adventures all over the world.
At the age of 45, Doug Smith found himself unemployable, uninsurable and not realising he was sinking into clinical depression.
Born and bred in Handsworth, Birmingham, Doug’s first picture of him riding was on a donkey called Silver at Weston Super Mare around 1959 and in 1973 he joined the Mounted Police, a career he thoroughly enjoyed until one fateful day.
“At first I rode and trained on a variety of horses but after a while I was allocated my own horse to train and I ended up taking him to Orgreave during the Miner’s Strike.” Said Doug, a member of the Stafford and District RDA Group.
“He was only a little horse, but he had the heart of a lion, galloping on the road into a full-blown riot.
“You’d go from something like that to the Pope’s visit to Coventry. Thousands and thousands of people, and suddenly we were surrounded by about 200 singing nuns. That was crowd control of the best kind!”
Doug’s spiral out of control started when he broke his back, being thrown from a horse, leaving him in a full body cast and spending four months in a metal cage.
Until then he had produced a number of horses from raw youngsters enjoying the process and the time it takes to build their trust.
When Doug found himself out of work and at a low ebb following his accident, it was suggested to him that he might like to go to the Atlanta Paralympics as a volunteer.
On his return he threw himself into volunteering at RDA and with his wealth of riding experience he became a much valued member of the team and by his own admission it transformed his life.
In 2000, Doug travelled to Australia where he was yard manager for the Paralympic team at the Syndey Olympics, with his philosophy being that it’s the contribution of volunteers that preserve an event.
Adds Doug: “I have met some incredible people from all around the world and worked with a huge variety of horses.
“The Atlanta Olympics were one on their own. Without doubt the RDA has provided so many amazing experiences and taken me all around the world, meeting lots of lovely people.
“As an RDA volunteer we should be bloody proud of what we do, and not go around saying, I’m just an RDA volunteer. I’m sorry that just winds me up; you’re not just an RDA volunteer. You are an RDA volunteer. Be proud.
“It is important to be professional in everything we do and that way we will be respected in the equestrian world.
“There are fabulous people in the RDA who do amazing jobs and we have to aspire to that.”
Volunteering with RDA – Horses, Health and Happiness
RDA recently surveyed over 1,500 of its volunteers to understand the impact of volunteering on their physical and mental well-being. The results, presented to Parliament to launch RDA’s 50th anniversary, revealed the multiple benefits:
81% said that volunteering with RDA made them feel better about themselves.
88% said they felt like they belonged to the RDA Community.
93% said volunteering helped to keep them physically active
95% of RDA volunteers feel they have gained knowledge and skills.
80% feel the knowledge they have gained has helped them in other areas of their life
For more information about volunteering with RDA, to visit the 50 Faces project or download the report ‘Horse, Health & Happiness’ visit www.rda.org.uk
50 Faces Campaign - Meet Phoebe Boyce
To celebrate its 50th anniversary year in 2019, Riding for the Disabled Association is marking the milestone through its 50 Faces campaign, telling the stories of some of the amazing people who make RDA the extraordinary organisation it is today.
Designed to challenge preconceptions about disability and volunteering, and to celebrate the diversity and inclusiveness of RDA, 50 Faces features a collage of portraits, as well as the surprising and often moving stories of horse riders, carriage drivers and volunteers from all over the UK.
“A 50th anniversary could be a time for looking back, but we wanted to celebrate where we are now, as leaders in disability sport, and also look to our future – helping even more disabled people to benefit from time with horses,” says Caroline Ward, Communications Manager at RDA UK. “50 Faces is an engaging and interactive way for people to find out more about what we do – and will hopefully inspire more people to get involved.”
Here we meet…
Phoebe Boyce first experienced horse riding when she was eight-years-old before she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Due to her undiagnosed condition, Phoebe found new experiences difficult and felt miss understood.
School was also challenging for Phoebe, who would often bottle up her feelings only for them to explode at home and as she is hyper-sensitive to noises and smells, her teachers found this difficult to understand.
Phoebe, from Derbyshire and her family, including mum Abi were hugely relived when she was finally diagnosed.
A few years later Phoebe began to think about horse riding once again and discovered RDA’s website when googling about horse riding for disabled people.
In April 2017, Phoebe started riding at Scropton RDA Group. Her first lesson was a group ride, where she was led by a volunteer so they could assess how capable she was.
Phoebe progressed really quickly and widened her knowledge by reading books and watching You Tube videos in her spare time away from the stables.
After a few months of riding,even though she is allergic to horses Phoebe joined the stable club and started volunteering on a Saturday morning, helping out with the other children and looking after the horses, which boosted her confidence and helped her make new friends.
She is now a member of the Scropton RDA Team and participates in showjumping and dressage, qualifying for the RDA National Championships in 2018, where she finished 7thin her showjumping category.
Phoebe said: “The thing about RDA that makes me keep coming back is the feeling of a community and being a part of something. The staff and volunteers are all so kind and I love the thrill of horse riding and learning new things. Also, I have made lots of new friends.
“Being part of RDA helps me in other aspects of my life as it gives me something to look forward to during the week and I have gained so much confidence with meeting new people and being more independent.
“I feel I challenge misconceptions about disability because many people don't realise I actually have a disability, as it's invisible. RDA treat me the same as everyone else, I get the support and help I need to improve my riding and I feel included, unlike at other places where I feel like an outsider.
“Many people with autism find it hard to socialise, and although I also have these difficulties I still enjoy volunteering and meeting and helping all the riders.”
Phoebe’s mum, Abi is incredibly proud of her achievements: “It is nice for Phoebe to do something independently without me around. When she started volunteering, I could drop her off and then come back later.
“To be able to leave her somewhere she is safe and happy is wonderful. She has made new friends and even researched and found the 50 Faces campaign herself and wanted to be included.”
You can read Phoebe’s story, and meet the other 49 Faces of RDA at www.rda.org.uk
Riding for the Disabled Association is marking the milestone through its 50 Faces campaign
To celebrate its 50th anniversary year in 2019, Riding for the Disabled Association is marking the milestone through its 50 Faces campaign, telling the stories of some of the amazing people who make RDA the extraordinary organisation it is today. Para Dressage rider, Sophie Christiansen, adds her story to the 50 Faces explaining how without RDA she wouldn’t be where she is today and her ambitions for continued success and her desire to help other riders achieve their dreams.
Here we meet…
Eight time Paralympic gold medallist, Sophie Christiansen, would never have even sat on a horse if it wasn’t for RDA.
Sophie was born two months prematurely with cerebral palsy and began riding at the age of six on the recommendation of a physiotherapist who believed in the benefit of horse riding for children with disabilities. Instead of doing PE at school, Sophie attended her local Riding for the Disabled Association Centre, South Bucks RDA.
Said Sophie: “I guess riding gave me a sense of freedom, I couldn’t walk or run like the other children but when I sat on a horse I felt free and it kind of escalated from there.
“I was always quite sporty and used to love playing football and hockey but I was rubbish at them and kept falling over. Dressage was the only sport I was good at, so I was determined to see how far I could go.”
At 16, Sophie was the youngest athlete for Great Britain to compete at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, returning home with an unexpected bronze medal, having originally just travelled to the Games to gain valuable experience.
Now a Paralympic veteran, Sophie says her most memorable moment came at London 2012 when the 10,000 capacity crowd erupted at the end of her Freestyle test.
“I had specifically put the test together to be very British and I was coming out of the arena and the audience had been told not to clap because of health and safety. I could feel the anticipation in the air and my brother and two cousins whipped off their shirts to reveal ‘We love Sophie’ written on their chests. As they shouted ‘We love you, Sophie’, the whole crowd joined in.
“There are no words to describe that feeling – I still get a bit emotional thinking about it now!”
Sophie acknowledges that without riding and RDA she wouldn’t be the person she is today as it has given her the confidence to accept her disability.
“I work as a software developer for investment bank, Goldman Sachs, and so many of the skills I use in day-to-day life are testament to how RDA and riding has helped me develop. Without getting on a horse I wouldn’t be where I am today. Riding for the Disabled Association has a lot to answer for!” added Sophie.
Looking to the future, Sophie aims to compete at Tokyo 2020 but is also working towards leaving a legacy to help other riders make the transition from RDA therapy riding to Para Dressage.To achieve this Sophie has launched a membership club to raise money and get people closer to the action of Para Dressage as well as share her journey with members from RDA to winning gold.
For more information about Sophie’s membership club visit www.sophiechristiansen.co.uk/goldclub. You can read Sophie’s story, and meet the other 49 Faces of Riding for the Disabled Association at www.rda.org.uk