Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Best Fun You Can Have On Four Legs

Every Saturday morning Cameron gets dressed just a little bit quicker because he knows he is going to one of his favourite activities for the week - Riding for the Disabled.

Cameron has been horseriding with Riding for the Disabled since he was two and a half years and old and thirteen years later he still loves it with a passion. He doesn't need to tell me, we can see the smile a mile away.

When Cameron started with RDA he could not walk. I carried him, or pushed him in his pram. He had a K Walker which is a walking frame on wheels which goes behind the body with bars on the side to balance you. Cameron was very slow with his K Walker and he could not change direction. If he walked into a solid object he stood there waiting for you to turn him around or he'd drop to the ground and crawl away. He had taken the occasional independent step, in therapy and at home, lurching from one adult to another but he was definitely not walking.

We discovered RDA from an unobtrusive A4 flyer on the wall at the hydrotherapy pool. I'd tried a mainstream playgroup and that had been a disaster so I had Wednesday mornings free. I thought, why not, lets see what this is about. That single thought changed our lives.

Six months after Cameron starting horseriding he walked independently. It was incredible and he has improved ever since. Just this week I noticed that he is running better and isn't leaning forward as if he is about to a nose dive into the dirt.

When you ride a horse the movement of the horse causes your body to use the same muscles it would if it was walking and consequently those muscles strengthen. When Cameron started RDA he had no real tone in his stomach muscles. He had been receiving physiotherapy at least twice a week since he had woken up in the Infants Ward and he had been swimming twice a week as well. His muscles had improved but they clearly needed something more and RDA was it.

Horseriding with RDA is miraculous for so many reasons. Obviously there are the physical benefits of strengthening muscles but there are so many other benefits. For a person in a wheelchair they are suddenly up high looking down upon their world  and experiencing a form of walking. For a lot of people with intellectual disabilities, like Cameron, they can not play team sports but they can ride a horse. Someone is there to watch over them and guide them all the time, they don't have to remember rules or game plans. There are also the emotional benefits they experience along with confidence building and self esteem. Everyone can ride, no matter what the condition, disability or problem there is always a solution.

Research has shown that horseriding can improve fine motor skills. A study showed that an intensive session on a horse can improve a child's hand writing immediately. It's seems implausible but we've seen it.

Over the years I have seem Autistic children calm down, overcome their sensory issues and fall in love with their horse. I've seen children with Cerebral Palsy improve beyond their parents wildest dreams. I've seen a hit and run victim who was in a wheelchair and needed total assistance walk unaided to his horse for the first time. I've watched children form deep bonds with their horses, coaches and volunteers and I've seen riders make life long friendships with other riders. As a by product parents also become friends and find powerful support from other parents.

There are social benefits too. Cameron gets to socialize with lots of different people in an environment which is supportive and makes allowances for him. This doesn't mean he can misbehave but people understand his disability and allow him to be him. He is with other people with special needs, their families and all the volunteers. Everybody knows everybody and there is a sense of fun, acceptance and excitement. It is a supportive community with a common purpose.

For us we have watched as Cameron's body has strengthened and taken control of itself. Cameron has learnt to say a few volunteers names from time to time and he learnt to sign horseriding at one point. Unfortunately his seizures robbed him of these achievements but he did them. He has learnt to mount a horse - a very difficult task when every week, for years, your brain tells you to use the wrong leg.

Cameron moves through life quite slowly but every Saturday Cameron jumps out of the car and walks quickly into the centre. He walks up the steps and up a graduated ramp which is high off the ground, two more skills which used to be incredibly challenging for him. He mounts his horse and rides off smiling, incredibly relaxed and happy because - he loves RDA.

Horseriding for the Disabled truly is the best fun you can on four legs and our family are deeply grateful for this incredible organization.

To learn more about Riding for the Disabled in Australia
(This is an International Organization)
Please click on the links below

State Organization - Riding for the Disabled WA                     
Facebook - RDAWA          


  1. My Paul went horse-riding for the disabled years ago but wasn't too keen. The big animals scared him. I'm currently looking into new leisure activities for him (he's a grown man of 33 now) and am hoping maybe if there's horse-riding for the disabled in the area that he might feel differently about it now. It's lovely to see Cameron enjoying it so much :)

  2. Hi Sharon,

    We have a lot of adults riding at our centre.

    The pairing of horse to rider is very important so hopefully if you can find a centre that will take the time to let Paul feel comfortable with his horse before mounting him he won't be scared. Let them know that he was scared when he was young.

    You might find that now he is a man a horse doesn't look as big or scarey. I hope so.

    Are you in Australia? If you are you could use the websites to track down the nearest centre to you. If you're in Western Australia I can help you - I'm a little bit involved in the organization.

    Good luck

  3. Why the beep is he still on a bleeping lead rope?

    Asks the para dressage rider with cp whos owned her horses(that were NOT stabled at RDA) and now rides privately owned horses

    I made no process as far as riding went(in 10 years) so left

  4. Cameron is on a lead rope because he has severe brain damage and doesn't have the understanding to steer his horse and no idea what to do in an emergency.

    Occassionally Cameron has come off a lead rope but not in a session where he has to control his horse through activities because he couldn't do it.

    I'm sorry you didn't find that RDA supported your needs. You obviously have advanced skills compared to a lot of the RDA riders which is wonderful. In my experience with RDA different centres are appropriate for different riders dependent on the centres history, facilities, coaches and riders. It's a shame you didn't find a centre that could assist you as your riding skills progressed.

    Good luck with your riding in the future.

  5. I too have a child who is extraordinary and loves RDA. I love your blog. Even though you probably began it as a means of keeping your sanity you are giving hope to families who are just beginning their journey. I wish you all well, and keep up the good work.