I have always had a love of horses, and in the early 70’s I rode in a few Gymkhanas’ with Ryde Pony Club and did riding lessons at a Horse Stud farm in Cherrybrook, which was sadly destroyed by a devastating bush fire and then developed into housing. I aspired to be a Mounted Policeman, but my working life took a different turn, and in later years I enjoyed the odd Trail ride and watching Dressage and Jumping events at Show’s.
After a workplace injury and being unable to work, I had been looking for ways, outside of my Scouting roles, to volunteer in the community, and happened to see the RDA stand at Rouse Hill in January 2011 promoting the Centre. I was informed of the program’s that RDA TT offers to disabled riders of various ages, and it immediately struck a chord with me, that I wanted to be a part of and involved in. RDA has provided the opportunity for me to assist with the horses (getting my much needed regular dose of horsey fix), and with the support of other Volunteers, to interact and help riders with disabilities enjoy the experience, sensations and thrills of horseback riding, in a safe and structured environment.
A car accident at the end of 2011 and other subsequent operations have left some enduring physical limitations and psychological challenges for me, but what I have found is that assisting at RDA has become part of my own recovery regime as well, and continues to be very much a positive motivating factor in my life. The physical exercise gained whilst leading or side walking the horses and riders in the indoor and outdoor arena’s, around the picturesque property, and in helping with some of the property maintenance, has been of great benefit in enhancing my mobility and muscle recovery. An unexpected benefit for me has also been with the mental stimulation achieved during the lessons, where the needs’ of the Rider’s and Horse’s requires my focused concentrated attention, awareness and alertness, so as to be ready to react to any unusual incidents or events that occur.
I aim to treat every rider as an equal, respectfully and calmly encouraging them, as much as they are able to, to engage in the riding programs’ games, activities and riding skills, and to establish a connection with their horse, but I have also come to realise that what works one week might be right out the window the next, and to be prepared for this. It is a challenge at times, being uncertain how best to effectively interact and communicate with some of the riders, and I hope that I don’t overload them with too much information during the lessons. Particularly for the riders who are not able to express themselves or verbally communicate back with me, I strive to pick up on their subtle, and not so subtle, signs and indicators, that things either aren’t travelling well, or that they are okay to continue. At times I may be a little stressed, panicky, anxious or down, but I hope this isn’t projected onto the riders or horses, and doesn’t affect their enjoyment of the classes. Seeing their faces light up during the lesson, or receiving a High 5, lifts my spirits and is all the thanks I need.
I am encouraged every day when I see firsthand the strength, courage, determination and perseverance of the riders living with a disability, who achieve so much in their own journey, with the assistance of our wonderful equine partners. For some riders just putting on a helmet, or approaching a horse at the mounting platform, or even staying in the saddle for more than 5 minutes seems impossible, like trying to climb Mt Everest. But little by little, advances are made, knowing that if needed, the rider can return to the relative safety of Base Camp (the bench seat), to regather themselves and build on their resilience, to try their advancement up the mountain again another day. It is amazing when you see some of the riders actually reach the peak, conquering their fears and hesitations, and being ready to face the next challenge. Seeing their confidence, balance, participation and riding ability progress is so rewarding.
I look forward too, when I’m available, to lending a hand at the special days held at RDA Tall Timbers, and also at the many Community events and fund raisers that the Centre has on the calendar each year. I’m continually inspired by the many wonderful devoted colleagues from RDA, who so readily give of their time and energy to support these events and the promotion of RDA to the wider public.
I’d like to thank the wonderful Coaches at our Centre, who continually encourage and instruct me as a volunteer, with Nicole, Joan, Christie, Nicole, Karen and Sophie from the Monday & Friday days. They all have a wealth of skill, knowledge and experience in horsemanship and in co-ordinating lessons, volunteers, and supervising the riders, who have such a varied range and level of physical and cognitive ability. They put so much time into the planning, leading and evaluation of the classes, with the care and safety of the Riders, Horses and Volunteers their number one priority.
I also greatly value the guidance that Chanida regularly gives, especially if a horse is having a bad day, or when something has upset their apple-cart that we need to be aware of, as well as in the safe grooming, handling and leading of the horses, and correcting if she sees any unsafe practices. And I’d like to thank her too for the daily care and training that she provides to all the horses at the Centre.
To all the Volunteer’s from the riding days and to Paul, Florien, Ewan, Florence, Pip & Charlie from the grounds and garden volunteers, you all contribute so much to the Riding programs, maintenance and upkeep of the Centre. It’s a joy to work alongside you and to engage in the variety of tasks and activities that this Centre has to offer. Thank you for your patience, encouragement and the friendship shown to me, and I hope to foster this for many more years to come.
To Nicole, Kerry and the Management team of RDA TT, thank you for your tireless efforts in managing all the operational and administrative aspects of the centre, and for giving me the opportunity to participate and serve in such a wonderful organisation. I count it a real privilege and blessing in my life.
I feel that I have gained so much more personally out of my involvement with RDA, the Riders, the Horses and the Volunteers than what I have contributed. Thank you.