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Volunteers needed for disabled riders

Dec 17th, 2012 | By | Category: Features, Student Features, Top Picture

ON TOP: William Bain sits tall at Riding for the Disabled Wellington.

RIDING for the Disabled is celebrating 50 years of helping disabled people in New Zealand and it needs volunteers to keep going for another 50.

The Wellington group has been operating for 37 years and one of its biggest challenges is finding volunteers to help run the program.

The group is located in Porirua near Kenepuru hospital and covers riders from Wellington city up to Kapiti Coast.

Operations manager Toni Grey says they don’t receive constant government funding, so they rely on donations and sponsors.

They include 27 community groups and trusts as such as NZ Lotteries and Halberg Trust.

The group caters for 55 riders per term, who visit weekly.

They have a range of disabilities such as being in a wheelchair, paralysis, spina bifida, brain injuries, and behaviour and learning disabilities.

Mrs Grey says being on the horse allows the riders muscles to relax.

One of the biggest struggles riders face is balance.

“Riders have to learn to balance on their own to develop core strength.”

Riders also look at exercises which focus on co-ordination, communication and flexibility.

Margaret Pullar, a teacher at Johnsonville School’s Learning Support Centre, has been taking children to Riding for the Disabled for about three years.

“For some of our children, we see them in a totally different light. Some of our children who are non-verbal have learnt to give instructions to the horse.”

One boy in particular has changed since he started the program.

“He’s gone from not being able to get on the horse, and now he’s riding with stirrups and using the reigns. He walks up to the ramp by himself now.

“It’s been a fantastic success.”

She says the option for children to be in control and make their own choices has been beneficial.

“Giving the children a chance to have an experience they just wouldn’t get. It’s got a lot of sensory input which our kids really need.”

William Bain, 13, (right) has started riding again this term after having to wait for an open spot.

Newlands College Learning Support Centre parent Charmaine Brown says it is amazing what William has remembered.

William has issues with his balance and holding his own weight which means he is afraid of falling over a lot.

“Getting on the horse has developed a lot of strength in his core which is great for his walking and balance,” Mrs Brown says.

One of his exercises is to have him reach out behind, beside or in front of himself on the horse to help with his balance.

“With his fear of falling, to turn and reach for something is pretty great because he’ll do that on the horse.”

Mrs Brown says being part of the Riding for the Disabled program is good because of the independence it gives him.

“He has a sensory fear of everything around him so it’s great for him to come to something like this and really enjoy it.”

William’s coach Laura Rutten (left) is one of the full time coaches at the Wellington group and has been there for three years.

She says the best thing about working there is watching the progress of the riders.

“Even if it’s not noticeable progress all the time, it’s just seeing that they enjoy turning up for a ride.”

She is enjoying working with riders and says it is satisfying work.

“For some of them it’s their special sport and the fact I get to be part of making that happen for them is pretty cool.”

Jane Weggery runs the therapy side of things for the Wellington Riding for the Disabled group. She is part of a group which provides therapy for people whose disabilities might not be intellectual.

“It’s a healing process for the person using the horse and why the horse is so effective is because horses are sensitive animals.”

Mrs Weggery says the most important thing is for people to build a relationship with a horse and through that, they learn more about themselves.

“They [the horses] don’t care who we were five minutes ago, who we’re going to be when we leave here, they only care about the person in the moment.”

Activities run by Mrs Weggery includes grooming, taking the pony for a walk, checking the water trough, leading the pony followed by a game.

“We never look at people and say this is their disability we look at how to enhance their capabilities.”

The Wellington group has around 50 volunteers who help during the week with riders and taking care of the horses.

Laura Rutten says without volunteers the program would not be able to run.

“They’re part of what makes the rides actually happen for all of our riders, so we’re very reliant on volunteers coming in.”

Toni Grey says they constantly need new volunteers.

“We constantly need to replace volunteers. Temporary volunteers come when people are in between jobs.”

She says they have sometimes got volunteers from local women’s prison, who are about to go on parole.

“We need a strong basis of long term committed volunteers.”

Wellington Riding for the Disabled runs Tuesday through to Saturday during school terms.

For more information about the different groups or to make a donation visit the RDA website. If you want to volunteer contact Toni Grey on 237 5550 or email

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