Miss Rusty is a sweet-natured horse who works for the RDA. Photo / Babiche Martens

The Calm, Patient Horses Making Strides For The Riding For The Disabled

The magic of Miss Rusty and the many other tranquil horses doing their best

Only the calmest, most patient horses work with NZ Riding for the Disabled (RDA), says Norma Hayward, president of the West Auckland group.

RDA has more than 50 groups throughout the country and helps 3000 New Zealanders annually dealing with physical, intellectual and social challenges, through riding sessions overseen by trained coaches, physiotherapists and volunteers.

Outside the horses’ therapeutic duties, many do other activities with able-bodied riders, such as pony club training or events.

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“Then they’ll revert — they know when they’re in RDA mode,” says Norma. “They’re instantly calm and tranquil and patient with riders.”

It’s not unusual for the horses’ equanimity to rub off on those who ride them, be it thanks to the gentle rocking rhythm of riding, the transmission of the horse’s movement and warmth, or simply the act of being outside in nature with a large, gentle animal.

Miss Rusty is a sweet-natured horse who works for the RDA. Photo / Babiche Martens

Despite the challenging nature some disabilities present — whether that’s difficulty controlling movement, making noise or expressing fear of even touching a horse — the animals are consistently forgiving, Norma says.

“They’re patient and non-judgmental and because of that patience and their training, they don’t get upset if a child does something that might upset another horse.”

Learning to ride can be hugely beneficial for those with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, helping to improve balance, strength, co-ordination and muscle tone.

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“We had one rider who was in a wheelchair, whose mother thinks that without the riding, they would not have been able to walk,” says Norma. “I’m not saying we create miracles at RDA but parents love that it can improve children’s confidence, self-esteem and emotional regulation.”

For others, the simple act of getting out of a wheelchair to sitting high on a horse’s back provides a new perspective.

“Many of these children can’t access any other sporting activities,” she says. “This gives them a whole new view of the world.” The West Auckland RDA is raising funds for a new covered riding arena so they can ride all year round.

To help, visit Westaucklandrda.org.nz. Or to find out more about your local RDA, visit Rda.org.nz

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