Dee Pike, Denise Swain and Jenny Franks are three dedicated volunteers who give their time willingly to work with our local branch of the Riding for the Disabled Association Australia (RDA). RDA brings immeasurable joy to many people – adults and children alike – with a disability, providing opportunities to learn new skills, develop confidence and form friendships.
What are your roles with RDA Australia and how/why did you become involved?
Dee: My role includes putting out riding boots and helmets for the riders and ensuring that each rider is correctly fitted before they start their ride. I then assist each rider in getting to the arena. My husband, Rob, and I also transport our horse, Clipper, and another horse, Nightmare, to be ridden at RDA. Rob has built equipment for RDA, including a mounting ramp and items for educational activities to enhance riders’ cognitive and sensory experiences. I became involved with RDA through the Hastings Trail Riding Club.
Denise: I provide morning tea as well as assisting with lessons, trail rides and Troop Drill. I am assigned to riders as either a side walker or leader, assisting with correct positioning and development of fine motor skills in the various games. At the end of the programme I assist with unsaddling the horses and packing up. As well, I assist with fundraising activities. I became involved with RDA after reading about it in the newspaper and because I missed my “horsey fix”. Also, I wanted to give to kids and to the community.
Jenny: My role includes grooming, saddling and exercising the horses in preparation for the morning’s programme. I am assigned a rider to work with in each session, either to assist as a side walker or leader, depending upon the rider’s needs or abilities. For example, I may assist a rider to participate in structured activities and games, or participate in a trail ride.
My other role is a coach’s assistant, helping to set up the arena for a troop drill or providing stand by assistance. Volunteers encourage and support their assigned rider and in doing so, develop a relationship and rapport, so the rider can achieve their best as well as enjoy their riding experience.
I became involved with RDA through another volunteer because I wanted to improve my knowledge about horses, as I was having weekly riding lessons. Also, I could see the tremendous benefit this programme offered, but only through people donating their time to make it happen.
What do you view as being the aims of RDA?
Dee: RDA aims to give our riders a sense of freedom and achievement and also acceptance in everyday life.
Denise: RDA aims to just make the kids feel happy.
Jenny: RDA aims to provide an opportunity for people living with a disability to develop skills. For example, to sit out of a wheelchair with minimal support, or to perform independently in a troop drill or compete in mounted games.
Tell us about the Port Macquarie Wauchope branch of RDA. When was it established, and how many riders currently enjoy its services?
Dee: The first RDA Centre in the area was formed in 1993 in Kendall. It was run by Peter Flood, whose wife, Jane, was the centre’s first RDA Accredited Coach, with Sue Barber as Assistant Coach.
In 1996 the Wauchope branch was formed. Norm Thomas was instrumental in setting up the Wauchope branch and was Vice President until 2010, as well as an Honorary Life Member. Sadly, he passed away this year at the age of 87.
In 2004, Kevin Waldron was elected the branch’s first President and was also appointed Horsemaster. Robyn Coombes, the branch’s current Accredited Coach, joined the branch in 2005 and is assisted by Robyn O’Callaghan, Assistant Coach. Today, 40 riders attend, including adults and children.
Where does our local branch operate, and what facilities are available?
Jenny: The Port Macquarie Wauchope branch of RDA operates at the Wauchope Showground, where we use a covered arena for exercises and drills, and Showground property for trail rides. The Showground also provides agistment for the horses during school term.
What days/times does the association operate locally?
Jenny: During school term the association operates between 9am and 1pm every Tuesday.
What are some of the favourite achievements/memories from your time with RDA?
Dee: Seeing our riders’ faces light up after coming out of the arena. Hearing from the mother of one of our nonverbal riders that her daughter had said “horse” on her trip to RDA.
Denise: Watching a child go off the lead and unassisted for the first time.
Jenny: A small boy with little trunk strength sitting tall in the saddle; our independent riders performing their troop drill; dancing with our riders to a disco at our Christmas party.
How can the public support the organisation? Are you in need of volunteers, horses, monetary donations?
Denise: The public can support the organisation by sponsorship of one of our 12 horses, or by financial donations, which would help in getting a new tack room, equipment and feed and also providing veterinary care – or by volunteering.
What events have you taken part in recently, and what upcoming events are on the agenda?
Dee: Recently our volunteers assisted our riders to perform at the regional RDA Mounted Games in Kempsey. Just before the last school holidays, our riders were videoed for a RDA Musical Troop Drill competition. In December we have our Christmas party, which is always a lot of fun.
How can readers find out more info about the Port Macquarie Wauchope branch?
Jenny: Come to the Wauchope Showground arena on a Tuesday morning in school term to observe activities and meet the riders, coaches and volunteers, or ring the Branch Secretary, Denise Wagner, on 6585 6324.
Interview by Jo Atkins.