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Horses for Courses at RDA


The Role of RDA

By Guy Ockenden, CEO, NZRDA

RDA logoRiding for the Disabled has been operating in NZ for over 50 years. NZRDA provides interaction with horses to develop increased ability, independence and self-esteem for children and adults with physical, intellectual, emotional or social challenges. NZRDA is an organisation of 55 RDA Groups nationwide and each year they welcome over 3,000 riders. They are supported by over 500 horses and 1,800 volunteers. Each year they deliver over 81,000 riding sessions!

Guy Ockenden, CEO of NZRDA has been with the organisation for 10 years. During this time his focus has been on the development and the delivery of effective training programmes for volunteers to ensure that those people that come to RDA are receiving a world class service. This focus continues, as well as the goal to be able to deliver safe and effective programmes in more local communities to benefit more riders.

The presentation will cover:

  • What Riding for the Disabled is
  • The extent of RDA in NZ
  • The focus of our work
  • Raising Funds
  • Volunteering
  • Plans for the future

Horses for Courses

By David Pine

Every week in New Zealand more than 3000 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.

In a passionate presentation to Plimmerton Rotary on 8th April, the CEO of NZRDA Guy Ockenden explained that his organisation relied heavily on its 1800 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 !”

“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!”

The central focus of NZRDA was 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.”


Welcome to Joe Perera who was formally inducted into the Rotary Club of Plimmerton at this week’s meeting.

Mock Interviews will be held at Aotea College on Friday 11 April, from 8.30am to 3pm. Philip Whearty is looking for members to assist in this very worthwhile activity. Phone 027 448 9094.

The Opening of the first section of Te Ara Piko will be held on 27 and 28 May 2014. 


Horses for Courses at RDA

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