RDA keen to saddle up more volunteers

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 14:51 11/09/2012
Riding for the Disabled
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ

RIDING THERAPY: Riding for the Disabled coach Anne-Marie Flynn chats with, from left, Sue Korff, Grace Vermeulen, 8, and Irene Corky.

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Southland Riding for the Disabled, which relies completely on donations and grants, is seeking more volunteers and funding to keep its services in the community.

Horse riding is considered to be one of the best physical and therapeutic forms of exercise for children and adults with physical and intellectual difficulties.

RDA president and coach Dot Muir said the service, which helped riders develop an increased ability and self-esteem, was short on volunteers and needed people to help out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 8.30am and 2pm.

"It's a wonderful therapy and exercises every part of the body and empowers riders," she said.

Riders gained confidence from being in control of a large animal and wheelchair riders gained confidence from being at the same level as everyone else, she said.

Riding helped those with behavioural problems; keeping them calm, balanced and co-ordinated, she said.

Ms Muir praised the enthusiasm that Invercargill's tetraplegic equestrienne Anne-Marie Flynn brought to the pony club.

"When she is instructing you can hear a pin drop because the children are so focused on her."

Ms Flynn was paralysed after a riding accident in 2003.

She has retained an ardent interest in training racehorses, teaching showjumping and dressage and has been volunteering as an RDA coach for about four years.

Every week she looks forward to coaching the children in equestrian, which helps them to embrace and work with their abilities, she said.

Sitting in her van, which overlooks the arena, she gently coaxes the children to get to know their pony, which she incorporates into gentle exercises, before the riding lessons and games begin. She asks the children to reach back to the top of the pony's tail and then to its mane, stroking gently.

"No matter what the child's disability, riding stretches them to push themselves to do more than they would normally, which is great for their sense of achievement," she says.

Each week the children improve and their confidence grows, she says.

"I look forward to the smiles on their little faces when it's home time. They get such a sense of satisfaction."

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- The Southland Times

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