What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
For many children and young people with disabilities, taking part in a fun, physical, outdoor activity is simply not an option, due to physical problems or the fact that a huge level of support is required to make it safe. Even if a commercial riding school were able to offer a safe opportunity, the cost of riding lessons is prohibitively expensive for most families. The problem we address is a simple case of quality of life – we believe children and young people with disabilities, regardless of financial background, should have access to the same opportunities for enjoyment, exercise and activity as those without disabilities.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
Our waiting list of 60 names is a good indication of just how much this work is needed, and many of our riders are referred to us by doctors and physiotherapists. We work with three local special needs schools, and they have told us that they simply wouldn't be able to find other opportunities like this locally, with the level of volunteer support which would be required.
What is your solution?
Because we have the support of an incredible team of volunteers, we are able to offer nearly 60 opportunities a week for children to ride and be around horses. It provides a fun, outdoor, physical activity, but being around horses is also incredibly beneficial for a wide range of disabilities. The connection that an animal can make with a child with autism is now well-recognised, and indeed we see this happen on a weekly basis. For those with physical problems it provides exercise and therapy, and in an environment which is so much more enjoyable and engaging than a hospital or clinic. The result we have found is that children are learning, growing and benefiting, without even noticing because they are having so much fun!
How will you deliver this?
Our work relies on over 100 dedicated volunteers, who run all the sessions, through the heat of summer and the snows of winter. This includes the instructors who teach the classes, who take on a huge level of commitment and training for this volunteer role. As a member group of the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association), we benefit from training and the experience of a nationwide support network. We currently have a team of 9 horses who can do this work, but we need to increase this number if we are to be able to continue to grow the opportunities we can offer.