August Club of the Month!
Ballyboley’s Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) group has only been around for three years but has already made a life-changing impact on local people.
The RDA is a UK-wide organisation, providing training and curriculum activities for inclusive horse riding and carriage driving, founded on the commitment of 18,000 volunteers.
The branch in Ballyboley - a small settlement in North County Down, Northern Ireland - was set up by Hilary Jones, a senior RDA coach of 20 years’ experience, and is run along with support from two other coaches alongside a team of volunteers.
Jones knew the potential of RDA to transform the confidence of disabled people but has been blown away by how it has taken off in the region.
“It just spread through word of mouth and soon the phone was ringing with parents asking if their children could come,” said Hilary.
“I knew the demand was there but didn’t anticipate how quickly people would buy into it.
“The children kept on signing up and I take every single one that I can, even if it’s not for a long period. Riding becomes the day of the week they look forward to most.
“The benefit to the children is unbelievable. The benefits that riding for the disabled can bring are mental and physical, but it also brings a unique sense of achievement.
“I get a lot of encouragement, a lot of self-satisfaction from watching the children improve every week.
“Some of them can’t improve beyond a certain level, but the positivity they get from just being around, interacting, sitting on a horse and being able to ride round is huge.
“It’s the independence they get from it that’s most pleasing to see.”
Jones oversees a group of 11 riders, several of whom have been working with her for years, and has seen great physical and mental improvement in her pupils over that time.
Children with limited range have greatly increased their core strength and motor skills, while horse care & riding courses help build communication and relationship-building skills.
Parents of participants are encouraged to take an active role in proceedings, sharing advice over a coffee and getting a special chance to watch their children’s progress.
COVID-19 has posed huge challenges for Ballyboley RDA with government lockdown regulations preventing them from running their usual sessions.
During lockdown, Hilary kept in touch with members via a WhatsApp group where they ran weekly competitions to keep participants engaged.
The group returned to riding around four weeks ago in a COVID-compliant environment to the unbridled joy of members.
Ballyboley RDA’s proactive approach before and during the pandemic have seen them rewarded with the Parasport Club of the Month award for August, recognition that Jones takes great pride in.
“The WhatsApp group enabled us to communicate and it was great to share photographs to remind children what they’ve achieved,” said Hilary.
“Each week we shared a video of one of the children to celebrate their achievements and it was a lovely way of keeping us together.
“We were the first group in Northern Ireland to get back again and it took a while to get all the forms filled in and all the precautions put in place, but we got there.
“It's just wonderful that the children are back, because they love it.
"It's lovely to be awarded Club of the Month - everybody was very pleased and very honoured to be recognised in this way."
If you’d like to give horse riding a go, use our activity finder to find your closest RDA group!