I started volunteering for Riding for the Disabled Association (“RDA”) in September 2015, on Saturday mornings. I was initially interested, because I wanted to be involved with children and animals. It also seemed to be the perfect opportunity to work in the community as well as generally helping out. At the beginning, I hadn’t really thought through the actual benefits of riding for disabled children. However, after several weeks of experience and reading about the subject; particularly a paper written by an orthopedic surgeon, I began to understand the benefits of riding and the importance of this organization for disabled children.

Without originally having any of the health benefits in mind, I thought that RDA simply provided an interesting activity for disabled children to participate in, rather like a nice day out. However, I soon noticed the huge array of mental, physical and other benefits that come along with the opportunity for children to ride. These include cardiovascular exercise, better coordination and body balance, and improved muscle strength. It also allows children to care for a horse, build their confidence, and develop emotional relationships.

I witnessed this first hand as a volunteer. I am usually assigned to side help, which means communicating with the children as they ride their horse. This involves clarifying instructions, fixing their riding technique and friendly conversations. Being around these children every week has given me a chance to watch how riding has helped them both physically and mentally. I have also seen them slowly develop from shy, nervous beginners to confident, brilliant riders. Their enthusiasm and the pleasure they get is so evident and it is truly heartwarming.

Needless to say, this is an incredible activity, but it doesn’t just stop with the children. I’ve found this experience incredibly rewarding personally, as I’ve experienced these young children grow increasingly comfortable with me. I’ve definitely improved my own emotional and communication skills as well. The ability to build long-term friendships through this activity is also an important aspect of the programme, not only with the children but with other fellow volunteers as well. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping out; it feels like an activity for me as well! I’ve also learnt that the opportunity given to disabled children to ride horses is tremendous not only in rehabilitation but in social aspects as well. Saturday mornings have become a hugely important part of my week that I always look forward to.

I hope that these thoughts will help new volunteers understand some of the benefits associated with this wonderful activity. They are not just for the disabled children, but for the volunteers as well. I would thoroughly recommend getting involved with RDA if you can, you won’t regret it!

Amy Hopkins