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Horses for Courses


By David Pine
Posted: 9 April 2014

Every week in New Zealand more than 3,000 disabled people are able to ride a horse supplied by a very special organisation called Riding for the Disabled (NZRDA). Riding specially trained horses has been proven to help those with educational, intellectual, physical, and spectrum (autistic) disabilities.

Guy OckendenIn a passionate presentation to Plimmerton Rotary on 8th April, the CEO of NZRDA Guy Ockenden explained that his organisation relied heavily on its 1,800 volunteers and the 55 NZRDA groups throughout the country. “Ours is very much a training organisation. Our volunteers have to be specially trained to deal with horses and with the people who ride them. As an organisation we demand tough, high standards of our people because our riders deserve the very best.”

NZRDA dates back to 1962 when it was started in Waipukurau with a handful of borrowed horses. Today it owns some 500 horses, each of which has been selected by NZRDA to ensure its suitability for the special training required. Horses need to be fit, healthy and strong. NZRDA generally pays between $5000 and $8000 for each horse. “Then of course we have to feed them. Nationwide our horses consume 25,000 bales of hay each year!”

Riding a horse“One of the important things about NZRDA is that there needs to be a match between the horse, the rider, and the volunteer. For example, it has been shown that if a rider suffers from a faulty sense of balance, the horse will sense this and compensate for it by altering its gait. After the ride, the horse needs to be ridden for a short time by a well balanced rider, so that the horse can regain its natural gait. The volunteer needs to be trained to manage this process. At the end of the day, it is the horse that does the work.”

The patron of NZRDA is Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. “She visits us about once every three years. We would love to see her more often. She is extremely interested and knowledgeable about horses, and is not afraid to speak her mind – we like that!”

Loving horseThe central focus of NZRDA is rider outcomes. “With every potential rider, we first sit down with family and friends to develop a set of individual goals for that rider. Once this is done we put a plan into action to achieve those goals and once the goals are achieved the rider leaves our programme so that we can then help another rider.”

“I guess we are in the business of helping our riders to gain self esteem, which in turn helps them to develop a sense of self worth. It is extremely gratifying for us to see this happen before our eyes.”


Horses for Courses

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