Two siblings are celebrating a decade of being in the saddle, thanks to an inspirational riding programme that opened the door to a fantastic new opportunity.
Accessibility Mark centres are assisting charities to inspire disabled people to participate in new activities, helping them to realise their potential and succeed beyond their perceived limitations.
Riding for the Disabled Association, in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s participation programme, launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme to work with commercial riding centres with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
For some this opportunity ignites a passion that leads to more than just attending a riding centre for an occasional group lesson.
Urchinwood Manor, based in Bristol, regularly provides riding sessions for a group of adults with learning disabilities thanks to funding from the Brandon Trust.
Two riders from the Scotch Horn Day Centre in Nailsea, who were introduced to riding on one of these sessions, are brother and sister, Steven and Michelle Hedges.
Sally Hall who was their instructor at the time and who is also the owner of Urchinwood Manor, recognised their potential in their initial lessons organised by the charity.
Steven and Michelle enjoyed learning to ride so much that they continued with lessons in their own time, using public transport and walking half a mile across fields to get to the yard, a testament to their determination to continue with their riding. Michelle now attends every week and Steven every other.
“I have always loved horses so jumped at the chance to learn to ride. Michelle and I have now been coming to Urchinwood Manor for 10 years,” said Steven.
“Horses have always been my favourite animal. I like the way they feel when I am riding and how I feel in control,” added Michelle.
Steven’s regular ride is a fleabitten grey gelding called Spirit who he describes as ‘kind and gentle’.
“Spirit makes me feel comfortable and safe, even when he fidgets.” he said.
Michelle rides different horses during her visits to Urchinwood Manor, but singles out chestnut mare, Tosca, as her favourite.
The physical and mental benefits of riding help Steven and Michelle to keep fit and healthy, and provides them with something to look forward to, with Michelle commenting that riding makes her ‘feel good’.
For people with learning disabilities, social interaction is so important to building confidence and the extra time spent at the yard has allowed them to make new friends and build relationships with staff members and the different instructors.
Both Steven and Michelle have made great progress in their riding ability from starting as complete novices, even setting goals for future progression.
“I would like to build up my confidence more to ride different horses, not just Spirit but I worry about losing my balance and falling off,” said Steven.
“My goal is to learn to canter and feel safe and well-balanced,” added Michelle.
Sally Hall is particularly proud of the achievements of both Steven and Michelle: “They have both progressed amazingly into independent riders, and their enthusiasm for everything we ask them to do is infectious.”
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial.
There are currently 38 Accessibility Mark approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk