I recently visited the new National Training Centre and Headquarters of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). The impressive centre is located at Lowlands Farm in Shrewley, which falls within my constituency, and we are fortunate to have the charity rooted so firmly in this area. The new centre marks a significant development for the RDA and I am confident that it will be a national asset which will help them in their excellent work.
The RDA is celebrating 50 years this year. From humble beginnings, when a handful of volunteers saw the benefits of horse riding for people with disabilities, they have flourished into a nationwide organisation delivering coaching, therapy and fun – run almost entirely by volunteers. The Princess Royal became President of the RDA as far back as 1986 and she continues to hold that position today.
Some may not realise the breadth of the clientele that RDA reaches. They work with people with physical and learning disabilities and autism. There are also no age restrictions, so both children and adults are welcome. The centre currently has 10 horses on site, but this is due to increase to 20 horses now that the new facilities are in place. As part of this significant expansion, it is hoped that the 40 current riders can be tripled to 120.
Talking to the Chief Executive, committed staff and the inspirational people who ride there, it was clear that RDA is about a lot more than just riding – and their impact on people’s lives and both physical and mental health is profound. I spoke to one client who had restricted movement in her legs. She told me about the freedom and pleasure that riding gave her – with the horses’ legs effectively becoming her own.
As well as catering for individual riders in this area, the centre will also be hosting around 70 training sessions each year. The purpose of these is to train, share knowledge and inspire the next generation of volunteers to allow the charity to grow and reach more and more people in the years to come.
RDA works up and down the country. Their horses benefit the lives of over 25,000 disabled children and adults every year, who are supported by an army of 18,000 volunteers and qualified coaches based at nearly 500 RDA centres. Through their network of member groups RDA reaches into cities and remote rural areas, seeking to spread the therapy, achievement and fun that horses can bring as far and wide as they can.
I know that the team at the RDA are hugely grateful to their donors, volunteers and (crucially!) horses who, together, have the power to transform lives.