Riding for the Disabled: Heroes on horseback

SADDLED UP: Mo Sherring, now retired but a former riding instructor for the charity since the 1970s, helps Sarah Kelly on to Honky the horse

SADDLED UP: Mo Sherring, now retired but a former riding instructor for the charity since the 1970s, helps Sarah Kelly on to Honky the horse

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THE Riding for the Disabled organisation’s aim is simple; to make a difference to the lives of disabled people in a very special way, by boosting their health and well being through opportunities to ride or carriage and experience the freedom of being on horseback.

Based in West Baldwin, the charity organisation relies on volunteers to function, and it’s the good work of each of the large team which has led to a nomination in the volunteer of the year category in this year’s Flybe Pride in Mann awards.

In his nomination, Mr M. G. Davies of Port Erin wrote to the Independent to say: ‘For over 30 years this group has worked for the benefit of Manx disabled children and young adults, helping them to acquire skills in sport and in life, and some 80 children benefit each year.’

The Manx branch is part of a wider organisation spanning the British Isles, with roots going back to the early 20th century.

The Isle of Man Group was formed in 1976 and from small beginnings has grown to involve some 80 riders, most of whom are children, and about 40 volunteers.

Click here to see the other nominees.

Riding for the Disabled relies totally on fundraising, donations, legacies and grants to keep going, so the volunteer workforce is all the more vital for the survival of the charity.

Volunteer instructors explain that the proof of the effectiveness of their work is immediately apparent in the happiness evident on the faces of the young riders.

Being mounted on four legs makes mobility possible, for young people who in many cases struggle to get around.

From the elevated position on the back of a horse, riders have an opportunity to survey the world, looking down to their helpers, over hedgerows and into gardens - all ordinarily denied to any wheelchair-bound individual.

Children can start aged about five, helped by the combined efforts of riding instructors and physiotherapists. Some riders may take years to achieve independence on a horse, others more quickly and for some they will always need the help of a hands-on team.

But the benefits are the same, the movement of the horse promotes the strengthening of back muscles and improvement of balance, posture, and helps regular riders become more relaxed and supple.

There is also evidence to suggest that being in the presence of a co-operative and friendly horse or pony has therapeutic benefits, not least with confidence, personal empowerment and a sense of achievement, all the more profound for disabled people whose normal daily routine can be limited and sheltered.

Horses and ponies are selected according to their calm and well-behaved nature, including Brek, the pony who memorably was painted in traditional Manx Celtic designs for this year’s Tynwald Day celebrations.

Brek is from Pennybridge stables in Kirk Michael, where each of the ponies take part in Riding for the Disabled.

Nominations for this year’s Pride in Mann awards have now closed.

Click here to see the other nominees.

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