Dis­abled chil­dren learn to ride high

Eques­trian ther­apy proves to be a big hit

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEN WU TAN

AN AS­SO­CI­A­TION which of­fers eques­trian ther­apy opened the first Rid­ing for the Dis­abled As­so­ci­a­tion chal­lenge course for chil­dren with spe­cial needs in South Africa this week.

The South African Rid­ing for the Dis­abled As­so­ci­a­tion (Sarda) hosted the Coun­try­side Chal­lenge in Con­stan­tia for nearly 200 adults and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

Founded in Cape Town in 1973, Sarda now has branches in Sleepy Hol­low in No­ord­hoek, Port El­iz­a­beth, Dur­ban, Ge­orge and Gaut­eng. The not­for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion teams up with spe­cial needs schools, in­clud­ing Bel Porto and Vera School, to pro­vide pupils with weekly cus­tomised lessons.

“Each rider has a les­son plan for the term,” said Belinda Thom, a Sarda rid­ing in­struc­tor.

“Maybe one of the chil­dren would be work­ing on steer­ing. An­other child would be work­ing on colours. An­other could be work­ing on num­bers. An­other child might be work­ing on ac­tu­ally try­ing to get some bal­ance to sit up tall.”

Mod­el­ling the chal­lenge course on the RDA UK Coun­try­side Chal­lenge, Sarda added an African twist by dec­o­rat­ing the course with wired sculp­tures of the Big Five, flamin­gos and a pool. Bee Lukey, Sarda of­fice and pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager, said the course gave rid­ers “an op­por­tu­nity to show their skills and the dif­fer­ences those skills have made in their lives to other peo­ple”.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions which of­fer eques­trian ther­apy claim horse rid­ing lessons pro­vide many ben­e­fits to rid­ers with var­i­ous phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing autism, Down syn­drome, cere­bral palsy and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion of Rid­ing of the Dis­abled’s web­site, eques­trian ther­apy can “im­prove bal­ance, co­or­di­na­tion, strength and mus­cle tone, while gen­tly mo­bil­is­ing the joints”.

“Ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing also im­proves sen­sory pro­cess­ing, fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion, the abil­ity to learn con­cepts, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.”

The Western Cape As­so­ci­a­tion for Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties re­ports that a global av­er­age of 15 per­cent of any given pop­u­la­tion has a dis­abil­ity. Based on that av­er­age, an es­ti­mated 562 500 peo­ple in Cape Town might have spe­cial needs.

Char­lene Gal­lant’s 12-yearold son Jaden has spas­tic quadriple­gia, a se­vere form of cere­bral palsy caused by brain dam­age which af­fects the en­tire body. Suf­fer­ers of­ten can­not walk and have stiff limbs and no vol­un­tary con­trol over their necks.

“For Jaden, he went with­out oxy­gen for a long time. I had a dif­fi­cult birth,” said Gal­lant.

“He had stopped breath­ing and they had to take him out of my tummy. He came out cough­ing. I don’t know how long he went with­out oxy­gen, but it was se­vere enough that it caused se­vere brain dam­age.”

At the age of 6 or 7, Jaden took a few lessons with Sarda, but stopped due to trans­porta­tion is­sues. For the first time in years, Jaden was back in the sad­dle at Sarda’s Coun­try­side Chal­lenge.

Hope­ful that eques­trian ther­apy will re­sult in longterm ben­e­fits, Gal­lant in­tends to start bring­ing Jaden for weekly lessons.

“I equate an hour of phys­io­ther­apy to 15 min­utes on a horse,” she said. “What I do no­tice is that when I do phys­io­ther­apy with him is you don’t see that flex­i­bil­ity that you get the minute he’s fin­ished here.

“Even if it doesn’t do much for your child as far as stim­u­la­tion or im­prove­ment, at least it’s some­thing for him to do.

“It’s an ac­tiv­ity where they get to go out­side. They get to go on a horse. The feel of the horse, the smell, be­ing out­side – this is ther­apy in it­self.”

The Sarda Sleepy Hol­low cen­tre in No­ord­hoek will also be host­ing the chal­lenge course from Mon­day to Sun­day. Rid­ers with and with­out dis­abil­i­ties are wel­come to par­tic­i­pate.

shen.wu­tan@inl.co.za

PICTURES: LEON LESTRADE

Vol­un­teer David Hodgson, rider Carene Kin­defu and vol­un­teer Mar­garet Morgan at Sarda Cape Town’s ob­sta­cle course chal­lenge at the Sarda cen­tre in Con­stan­tia. Be­hind them is Char­main Hig­gins.

Rider Rayyaan Davids with vol­un­teers Aniko Glass, Adrian Pow­ell, Karen Bas­son and James Ball.

Chil­dren and adults liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties pre­pare for the ob­sta­cle course chal­lenge.

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