In­side the RDA

Meet the amaz­ing peo­ple be­hind one of the UK’s great­est equine char­i­ties

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

WE MEET THE RDA team at an ex­cit­ing time in their near 50-year his­tory of bring­ing horses into the lives of those who need it most. They’re set to take over Low­lands Farm, in Shrew­ley, War­wick­shire, to trans­form it into a na­tional train­ing cen­tre. Low­lands Farm is owned by one of the char­ity’s long­est sup­port­ers, Ro Pud­den MBE (more on her later!). Open­ing in au­tumn 2018, the cen­tre will give RDA vol­un­teers the chance to meet and train as coaches in the same place, bring­ing to­gether years of knowl­edge un­der one roof. “The cen­tre has been a dream of ours for a long time,” says Ed Bracher, CEO of the RDA. “The site at Low­lands is per­fect. It’ll be a place that’s the gold stan­dard for us.”

Mak­ing the dream a re­al­ity

While the £3.4 mil­lion tar­get to bring the cen­tre to life might be quite in­tim­i­dat­ing, the pas­sion of the RDA’s rid­ers and vol­un­teers makes it seem eas­ily achiev­able. “Ev­ery­one’s been get­ting in­volved with the fundrais­ing,” says Cat Stu­art-Yapp, who’s re­cently started her train­ing to be an RDA coach. “Our chair­man, Sam Orde, is tak­ing on a big ride dur­ing which she’ll visit each of the RDA re­gions. We’ve also got an­other group tak­ing on Ride Lon­don and then an­other of our rid­ers, Max, is plan­ning a pony trek to base camp at Ever­est!” As­cend­ing a mas­sive 8,000ft to get to base camp, a trip to Ever­est is a huge chal­lenge and it’s ex­pected to take Max, who has cere­bral palsy, 12 days of hard rid­ing to com­plete. “I’ve al­ways wanted to do some­thing big, crazy and ex­cit­ing,” says Max. “I’ve been with the RDA since I was five years old and I ap­proached them with my idea about six months ago. They were very keen to get on board, which felt re­ally great.” With 500-plus RDA groups in the UK, we can only be­gin to imag­ine the num­ber of other in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries such as Max’s

from the 25,000 chil­dren and adults who the RDA sup­ports. Not to men­tion Ro Pud­den, with­out whose help the char­ity may not have found a suit­able site for their flag­ship train­ing cen­tre.

The woman be­hind Low­lands

When Ro first started vol­un­teer­ing for the RDA 40 years ago, she could hardly have imag­ined the huge role the char­ity would play in her life (she was awarded an MBE in 2012 for her work with them). Af­ter help­ing to es­tab­lish the New­bury RDA group, she moved to York­shire for a few years, be­fore mov­ing to Low­lands Farm in the 1980s. “When I came here, there was only the house and barn,” she ex­plains, as she shows us around the grounds – which now in­clude an in­door and out­door arena, and sta­bling for 25 horses. “My brother thought I was mad at the time but I’ve had an in­ter­est­ing life and met peo­ple that I never would have oth­er­wise. It’s been great to be able to help peo­ple see a new view of life.” It was while at Low­lands that Ro’s in­volve­ment with the RDA snow­balled as she be­gan coach­ing more and more rid­ers of all abil­i­ties. “I started in­struct­ing groups lo­cally and then schools started com­ing and it just took off from there. I guess my prob­lem is that I can never say no!” she says. Now in her 83rd year, Ro’s show­ing no signs of slow­ing down and con­tin­ues to coach rid­ers at grass­roots level. Far from hand­ing over her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the RDA when the new cen­tre ar­rives, Ro will con­tinue to live in the house at Low­lands and no doubt be an in­spi­ra­tion to the fu­ture coaches hop­ing to fol­low in her foot­steps. “It’s amaz­ing to have some­one like Ro to learn from,” says Cat. “She’s done so much for the char­ity and the pas­sion she has for what she does is re­ally in­spir­ing. I’m try­ing to pick up as many hints and tips from her as I can.” Caro­line Ward, RDA com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, agrees. “Ro’s great. She says it like it is and no­body’s treated any dif­fer­ently from any­one else.” Soon to have the new cen­tre built on her farm, how does Ro feel about shar­ing her home with the char­ity? “The farm’s some­thing that I started from noth­ing,” she says. “So it’s bril­liant to know that it’s a great legacy that I’m leav­ing in a safe pair of hands once I’m no longer here.”

The big build

As Ed ex­plains, once the cen­tre has been built, there are al­ready plans in the pipe­line for its de­vel­op­ment. “In the next three years, we’re hop­ing to dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple who can ride at the cen­tre,” he says. “We want to be able to cater for all dis­ci­plines and have plans to put in a track at the site for car­riage driv­ing.” There are also plans for train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, class­rooms and a view­ing area for both the in­door and out­door are­nas, mean­ing work­shops and demon­stra­tions will be more in­ter­ac­tive than ever be­fore. “Along with the rid­ers who’ll con­tinue to en­joy the fa­cil­ity, we’ll be able to pro­vide our vol­un­teers and coaches with train­ing that’s con­sis­tent across the board and make sure that peo­ple are given the qual­ity sup­port that they need,” Ed adds. “We have a vi­sion that we’ll be able to help any­one with a dis­abil­ity to get in­volved with horses, as this isn’t al­ways easy at the mo­ment, and we want to con­tinue to be the back­bone be­hind Par­a­lympic suc­cess.”

Go­ing for gold

Their im­pres­sive record at the Par­a­lympics is some­thing that the RDA are in­cred­i­bly proud of – and who can blame them when stars like Natasha Baker and So­phie Chris­tiansen first started their rid­ing ca­reer with the char­ity. In fact, Ro played a part in paving the way for the cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity of the Par­a­lympics. Not that she’d tell you that. It took Your Horse a good hour to get any­thing out of Ro about her in­volve­ment in the first Par­a­lympics, let alone how suc­cess­ful her and the team were. “It was an up­lift­ing and in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Ro thought­fully. “I guess we were trail­blaz­ers at the time.”

We have a vi­sion that we’ll be able to help any­one with a dis­abil­ity to get in­volved with horses

As a trainer for the first Bri­tish Par­a­lympic team, along­side Diana Ma­son as Chef d’Equipe, Ro led the team to glory at At­lanta, win­ning three golds in the process. “To see the flags go up was one of those once in a life­time things. It was hard work and not al­ways easy, but so re­ward­ing,” she says.

Ev­ery­one’s a win­ner

While the Par­a­lympic rid­ers achieve feats that us mere mor­tals can only dream of, win­ning gold medals isn’t the sole goal of the RDA. Their pri­or­ity is to bring horses into the lives of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. “If some­one thinks that the ac­tiv­i­ties we do at the RDA can be of ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit to them, then they’re more than wel­come to come and join us,” says Caro­line. “A valu­able part of what we do is work­ing to each in­di­vid­ual’s goals. “For some, this might be trot­ting, for others it might be do­ing a dres­sage test. Be­ing able to sit up straight and ride un­aided can be a huge achieve­ment, too.” At the mo­ment, 30% of the RDA’s rid­ers and car­riage drivers have phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, while the re­main­ing 70% have learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, in­clud­ing autism. “There’s no doubt that the RDA can be ther­a­peu­tic,” says Caro­line. “We have a vault­ing team with autis­tic mem­bers. I’m sure peo­ple will tell you that those with autism strug­gle with team­work but there’s no team quite like a vault­ing team! It’s amaz­ing what they do.” Friend­ship and com­mu­nity is also a large part of the char­ity’s ethos. “We have a group of ladies in Scot­land that have MS and have started a club,” ex­plains Caro­line. “They ride to­gether and fundraise for equip­ment they want. There are days when some of the ladies won’t be feel­ing well enough to ride but they still come in to watch the others and have a slice of cake and a chat. It’s not just about the rid­ing – it’s great to have that so­cial side.” Speak­ing from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, Max adds: “Through the RDA I’ve been able to gain re­la­tion­ships and a sense of com­mu­nity that I’d never have had ac­cess to with­out them.”

Be a part of the RDA

The RDA is clearly very close to the hearts of its rid­ers and vol­un­teers, but how can new peo­ple get in­volved? “If you’re in­ter­ested in rid­ing with the RDA, I’d rec­om­mend con­tact­ing your lo­cal group and go­ing along to see what they do first,” says Ro. “Just go along and watch, see what you think. The RDA has grown so much and meets the needs of peo­ple with a whole range of dis­abil­i­ties now. Ev­ery­thing is taken into con­sid­er­a­tion and rides will be built around the in­di­vid­ual.” If you think coach­ing is more your thing, there’s no rea­son you can’t start straight away. As Ed ex­plains, you don’t have to wait for the new train­ing cen­tre. “The cen­tre will give us the op­por­tu­nity to en­sure that our coaches are pro­vided with qual­ity sup­port when they need it,” he says. “But we al­ready have our coach­ing path­ways up and down the coun­try that fol­low our key prin­ci­ples.” Cat is also keen to en­cour­age peo­ple to get in­volved to safe­guard the char­ity’s fu­ture. She says: “Our coach­ing net­work helps lots of peo­ple learn the skills they need to coach peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,” she says. “If you’re in­ter­ested in giv­ing it a go, just try it! More than any­thing, we need the next gen­er­a­tion of coaches to en­able us to carry on Ro’s legacy.”

Our coach­ing net­work helps lots of peo­ple learn the skills they need to coach peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

Artist im­pres­sions give an idea as to how the new cen­tre will look when it’s com­pleted next year

Max train­ing for his Ever­est trek with the help of friends, Livi and Giles

Al­ways smil­ing, Ro says the RDA has given her an in­ter­est­ing life with many emo­tional re­wards

Soon-to-be coach Cat urges any­one think­ing about train­ing with the RDA to give it a go. If it makes Cat smile like this, we think we just might!

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