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Riders saddle up for Special Olympics competition

Mar 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Latest News, News

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ALL SMILES: Special Olympic riders smiling after practice on Wednesday

DISABLED riders from all over the North Island will be heading to the Upper Hutt this Sunday to compete in the Special Olympics.

The event this weekend is being held at the Upper Hutt Riding for the Disabled (RDA) for the first time at its current location.

The Special Olympics is a horse riding event for people with an intellectual disability such as Down syndrome or Autism.

One of the head coaches, Stephen Field, is a qualified British Horse Society assistant instructor and has been running his own riding school in Upper Hutt’s Moonshine for many years.

Mr Field said when the riders come to the RDA they set goals and once they have reached their goals they are ready to compete.

“We have seven riders here that are competing at the tier one event on March 16,” he said.

Head coach Bronwyn Hussey said the event this weekend could lead into other Special Olympic events.

“There are three different types of Special Olympic events. The regional event is the first for the tier one and tier two riders and from there they have a chance to go to the regional event,” she said.

From the regional event the riders get the chance to go to nationals and may be selected for an international event which is around every four years.

PRACTICE PERFECT: RDA rider Sharon perfecting her walk for Sunday.

WALK FORWARD: RDA rider Sharon perfecting her walk for Sunday.

There are 56 RDA groups around New Zealand with one governing body that manages the policies and procedures.

The Upper Hutt RDA has three different groups of riders, sport and recreation, therapy and educational riders.

Sport and recreation riders learn how to ride a horse, therapy riders have prescribed therapy with a therapist there also and for educational riders it is a mixture.

Ms Hussey said sport and recreation riders are going to benefit from riding at the RDA quicker than therapy riders.

“Sport and recreation riders are going to know how to sit up straight and hold the reins, therapy riders will take a bit longer,” she said.

The horse is important from a therapeutic point of view at the RDA.

“The way the horse moves will have a bearing for the riders,” Ms Hussey said.

“For example I have a rider in a wheelchair and, because we need to lay him over the horse, we need a horse with a nice wide barrel and a nice calm smooth walk.”

RDA views the Special Olympics as a step up from what the association does.

The Special Olympics is run very similar to the RDA because it has it has its own governing, but Ms Hussey said there is a difference between the two.

“Our committee is ‘have you got enough horses and what bills are there to pay’, but the Special Olympics committee is ‘have you got enough things for bocce and people for horses’.”

“Special Olympics isn’t just for horses, whereas we are just for horses. They do other sports such as bocce, basketball, athletics and swimming.”

If someone wants to ride in the Special Olympics they do not have to be a member of the RDA but Ms Hussey said traditionally in the past they have been.

“It is only because we have the facilities, the horses, the trained volunteers and the safety measures.”

Ms Hussey used to help with the Special Olympics and nearly got picked to help with the international team.

“It was a long time ago and I was probably a little bit young,” she said.

The Upper Hutt RDA started training for the Special Olympics last year after not competing for a couple of years.

“We started training on a Saturday morning but we certainly didn’t have seven riders, I think we only had three,” Ms Hussey said.

The three events the RDA has decided to go with this year are dressage, barrel racing and pole bending.

PROUD HANNAH: Poppy getting a pat from a volunteer after a good walk through with Hannah Duncan

PROUD HANNAH: Hannah all smiles after great walk through with Poppy

Ms Hussey said they have been learning how to walk, trot and canter with each rider classified on their ability.

“Group A means riding independently with no leader or side walker, Group B has a leader and from memory one is assisted and one is completely unassisted,” she said.

For example the dressage test for group A will be much harder than group B and C.

Mr Field said riders are coming all over the country to participate.

“We have riders coming from Porirua and Wanganui and one from Napier, riders from Marlborough were going to come but it proved to be too difficult,” he said.

One of the Upper Hutt riders, Hannah Duncan, 13, has been riding since she was eight years old and has been practising for this weekend’s event since last July.

This is the first time Hannah, right, has competed in the Special Olympics and is very excited. She practises with Poppy every Wednesday morning.

“I have always wanted to compete in the Special Olympics and now I am,” she said.

Ms Hussey said the RDA needs versatile horses and Poppy, a chestnut horse, is one of the most versatile.

“On a Monday Poppy has got a rider lying on her and then on other days she walks, trots and canters with more capable riders,” she said.

The next step for the RDA is to introduce an off-the-horse program where riders learn to brush the horse and saddle up the horse.

“I think it would be really good for the riders to learn those skills too,” Ms Hussey said.


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