RDA continues to provide opportunities for our riders to develop confidence, social skills, strength, independence, focus and self-control. Our volunteers are very caring and experienced. They provide our riders with a unique experience that makes the learning outcomes, the physical benefits and the life skills gained enjoyable. Our riders love riding and parents see huge benefits from RDA.

Here are some rider stories you are bound to enjoy!

In 2020 Destiny joined other riders with a goal to ride independently where they were given the opportunity to participate in the NZRDA Introductory to Dressage test. 

Destiny Shelford

Diagnosis: Cerebral Palsy
Age: 13 years
Attending RDA: 11 years

Destiny has been a rider at Riding for the Disabled since she was just two years old. She was born with cerebral palsy. Her riding has been as part of an intensive physical therapy programme. Until undergoing complicated leg and spinal surgeries in the USA when she was six, Destiny couldn’t walk or stand independently. “She needed masses of physio after the surgery, but it meant she could finally walk on her own,” says Destiny’s Mum, Marlene. For a child with severely limited mobility, this was an incredible achievement. “When she first came to RDA, she could sit up by herself, but her balance was not wonderful and she could only stand with help,” says Anne, one of her RDA coaching team. “Tight leg muscles are an issue for people with cerebral palsy. Riding mirrors the movement of walking, and strengthens and stretches the leg muscles.” Destiny started riding again eight weeks after her surgery as part of a range of activities aimed at increasing the strength in her legs and improving her overall balance and hip movement. Destiny’s RDA support team has been part of a dedicated group of specialists who’ve helped her achieve her goals.

Cerebral palsy affects one in five hundred babies born in New Zealand and is the most common cause of physical disability in early childhood. Taking part in the RDA programme is one of the best therapies available. In addition to the physical benefits from riding, RDA gives riders the confidence to try new things.

For Marlene, with other children to care for, RDA offered something she and Destiny could do together. It also gave Destiny a way to better fit in. “Put her up on a horse and she’s equal with her peers,” says Marlene who acknowledges this is not something Destiny can ever achieve in school sports.

Marlene herself has been so moved by her involvement with RDA, and the impact it has on so many children like Destiny, that she is now volunteering one day a week to give back to others something of what she’s received.

Marlene says it’s been one of the best therapies Destiny’s had. “She just loves her riding sessions. She’s never not wanted to go. We’re so lucky to have this available for our kids as the outcomes from riding are invaluable.”

“Destiny would ride all day every day given the chance — she’d likely do her homework on horseback if she could”, says Marlene.

Chris Wilcox

Diagnosis: Incomplete Tetraplegic
Attending RDA: 9 years +

My name is Chris Wilcox and I am a mother and grandmother. In 2009 I had spinal surgery for a benign tumour at T1-2 level. Although I had never contemplated losing my ability to walk, the odds were not in my favour and I am now an incomplete tetraplegic. After 3 months in the Auckland Spinal Unit I was fortunate to have follow-up physio three times a week and made considerable physical gains over this period. When this program finished in late 2011, I suggested RDA as an ongoing therapy. Having been a volunteer at Drury RDA in the 90’s and an upbringing on horseback on a hill country farm, I thought this might be something I could get to grips with. Totara Park RDA gave me the opportunity to give riding a shot and this is now a regular part of my life.

My first ride was VERY challenging, both for me and of course the group of helpful TPRDA supporters. ! ! ! My first “ride” consisted of 30 minutes on horseback, half -lying on the horse’s neck with my legs and me being held by 2 side walkers. I think I talked the whole time – partly through fear and partly through excitement – it was so exciting to be doing something “NORMAL” as opposed to sitting in a wheelchair. I have continued to ride weekly and with a lot of encouragement from my side walkers and the team, I have improved from being a “sack of spuds,” to riding independently. I am now able to trot over a short distance and complete short dressage assignments and it is such a thrill to feel so comfortable and free on a horse again.

The physical and mental challenges which I face every time I ride provide a huge sense of achievement which are difficult to duplicate and I am certain that RDA is the biggest factor in building and maintaining my core strength and positive attitude and I very much look forward to continuing riding as a way of enjoying the outdoors. From my perspective RDA performs a very valuable role in therapy and is run by an enthusiastic band of volunteers. It provides positive physical and mental benefits which in many cases equals or exceeds the benefits of alternative therapies.

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