Riding for the Disabled Association celebrates its 50th year

Celebrating 50 years of the RDA at the recent national championships in Hartpury are the three regional Scottish chairwomen Kim, Barbara and Kate.
Celebrating 50 years of the RDA at the recent national championships in Hartpury are the three regional Scottish chairwomen Kim, Barbara and Kate.

It is 50 years since the Riding for the Disabled Association was first founded, although some of the Scottish groups are, in fact, older.

However, the milestone will be celebrated at branches across Scotland in October – as one of the three Scottish regional chairwomen put it, any excuse for cake!

Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, was the first to receive one of the anniversary tartan scarves at a special celebration event in Edinburgh on April 30. (Pic: Chris Watt)

Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, was the first to receive one of the anniversary tartan scarves at a special celebration event in Edinburgh on April 30. (Pic: Chris Watt)

At the Blair Castle International Horse trials this week, the RDA was also to the fore – with a series of guest speakers raising awareness for the charity.

And it provided an ideal opportunity to sell the remaining anniversary tartan scarves – first launched at a celebration event in Edinburgh on April 30 attended by RDA president, Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne – before the next batch is ordered.

The anniversary is helping to shine a light on the work RDA does in Scotland, not least through its 50 Faces campaign which features three Scots riders who have benefited from the charity’s work.

Colin Duthie from Ayrshire, Bernadette Leslie from Carrick and Anne Brown from Falkirk have all shared their personal stories. Theirs, and many other inspiring stories, can be viewed at www.rda.org.uk/50-faces.

It has been 50 years since the RDA was first founded nationally although some Scottish groups have been in existence for several years longer.

It has been 50 years since the RDA was first founded nationally although some Scottish groups have been in existence for several years longer.

To find out more about RDA’s work here in Scotland, we spoke to Kim McCutcheon, the regional chairwoman for Edinburgh and the Borders,

Her patch extends from Stranraer to the Borders, through Edinburgh and right up to St Andrews – with 17 groups in the region.

Kim said: “Each group is a charity in its own right. Some have been going for 50 or 60 years, while the youngest is just a few years old, but they all operate under the RDA banner.

“People have this idea that the RDA only offers pony rides for children, but it does so much more.

“The majority of the groups provide therapeutic riding for people of all ages, with a wide range of disabilities.

“We work with a team of physiotherapists and occupational therapists to understand how we can make a difference to every single person we meet.

“We have members from the age of four right up to those in their 80s and 90s.

“And it’s not always about people getting on a horse – for some it’s carriage riding, for others it’s just spending time with the horses and building up a rapport.

“Many of our members also love taking part in the local, regional and national championships.

“And, at the other end of the scale, we have several paralympians who started their careers at the RDA – such as Natasha Baker and Sophie Christiansen.”

No matter the person’s ability, the RDA aims to ensure they leave with a smile on their face and new skills under their belt.

Kim explained: “We’ve helped so many different people with a wide range of conditions, from Down’s syndrome to MS, mental health issues to Parkinson’s.

“The key thing is that, no matter how nervous they are when they first come to us, they develop a bond with the horses which helps to build up their confidence.

“For wheelchair users, being on the back of a horse is often the only time they have full body movement and they love the freedom that gives them.

“They are in complete control and go wherever they want to – and they love it.

“It’s a way for them to regain their freedom.”

Of course, none of it would be possible without the very many volunteers who help power the charity.

Kim, from Melrose, joined 11 years ago as a side walker and then trained as a coach.

She now leads the Borders group on a Monday and the Berwickshire group on a Thursday, in addition to overseeing the region.

But it’s clear that she loves every minute of it.

Kim added: “The RDA couldn’t survive without the volunteers who support it across the country.

“We rely hugely on their commitment to turn up, week in and week out.

“Without the volunteers, the RDA would not be the success that it is.

“We’re also indebted to every single member of the public who raises funds for us as each group relies on support from within their local community.”

As for the anniversary celebration, Kim said each group will be toasting the RDA in their own way.

She added: “There’s a special anniversary week, running from September 30, when groups will all be having parties – it’s a good excuse for cake!

“We’ll also be celebrating at the Scottish RDA dressage championships on September 29, at which riders from all over Scotland will be competing.”

Kate Bennet oversees west and central Scotland – from Mull and Oban, across to Falkirk, through Glasgow and down to Lanark.

And Barbara Manson is the regional chairwoman for Grampian and Highland, overseeing all the groups north of Dundee.

The trio work tirelessly to help groups in their area and keep them informed of regional and national news.

And while they don’t often get a chance to meet up, they did so recently at the national championships at Hartpury College in Gloucester, where – as well as cheering on their local riders – they also posed for a fun anniversary picture.

Looking forward to this week’s horse trials at Blair Castle, Kate said: “As well as the tartan scarves, we’ve had some tartan ties made for the officials.

“It will be a great way for us to publicise everything the RDA does in Scotland and across the UK.”

A conference will also be staged at Ingliston Country Club in Glasgow on October 23 to which all riders, drivers and their families are welcome to attend.

Kate added: “It’s open to everyone – members, families and supporters.”

To book a place, call 01360 449511 or email mail@dunlopmj.co.uk.

Today, RDA’s horses benefit the lives of more than 25,000 disabled children and adults. With fun activities like riding and carriage driving, it delivers therapy, fitness, skills development and opportunities for achievement at nearly 500 RDA centres all over the UK.

Each year more than 19,000 dedicated volunteers give a total of more than 3.5 million hours of their time to help.

RDA is reliant on this voluntary help, and public donations and legacies, to deliver its services.

If you would like to volunteer or help, visit www.rda.org.uk.