Time for old horses to learn new tricks

The days of bringing joy and happiness to people with disabilities could soon be over for a couple of friendly horses at the Wairarapa branch of Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

While still healthy and happy, two of the seven-strong team are nearing the end of their working life as RDA-horses and will be retired, but not before replacements are found.

Branch president Kim Gabites says Tara and Princess have been absolute stars with a combined service of 26 years.

At 31 years of age Princess is the eldest mare, and with Tara in her early 20s both are deserving of a well earned retirement, Kim says.

One of 56 branches of RDA nationwide, the Wairarapa branch survives on donations, grants and bequeaths to operate. This applies to their stable of horses too.

“We are always on the look-out for more horses, specially now as it is time that we need to plan to retire some of our older ones,” Kim says.

With 19 volunteers the Wairarapa branch has some fantastic people assisting, but is also always looking for more volunteers to help out. The majority are ‘leaders’ and ‘side-walkers’, there are also four coaches plus an additional three who are currently completing their NZRDA/Primary ITO Level-3 Certificate in Equine (Assistant Coach) qualification.

The Wairarapa branch is extremely grateful to Trust House for their support with a grant of $3,500 towards the training costs.

“The association could not operate without the generosity of the community,” Kim says.

RDA is a charitable organisation which partners horses with people living with a range of disabilities. The Wairarapa branch, on the outskirts of Masterton, includes two outdoor arenas, a sensory trail, and a covered arena. It offers clients of all ages with varying disabilities the chance to grow more confident and learn new skills while working with horses.
Currently there are 24 riders. Each rider has a up to three helpers, this includes a leader, two side-walkers plus an overseeing coach.

All riders have an individual programme tailored to their needs, with individual goals. For some children, this means strength and muscle toning, for others building confidence and self-esteem, and helping to improve concentration.

Many of the skills that they learn at RDA are transferrable into other parts of their lives, Kim says. Much of the credit for this can be attributed to the horse, she says.
When pairing horses and riders, temperament is just as important as gait – different size horses cater to different riders. The movement of the horse is so essential to the movement of the rider, Kim says.

Working one day a week at Wairarapa RDA it is not exactly taxing work for the horses, and it is a pretty good life too. For the other six days they are tended to while remaining at the RDA’s facility, and then in the school holidays trot on back to homes kindly offered by people in the community.

Depending on when suitable replacement horses become available, older horses, like Tara and Princess will move onto the next phase of their lives. When that happens it will be time for these two old girls to learn some new tricks, this time with only themselves to please.

More information about RDA can be found online at: rda.org.nz/volunteering/your-local-rda/Wairarapa, or on the Wairarapa RDA Facebook page and messenger.


Riding for the Disabled Association

Ben, the youngest of the seven horses at Wairarapa RDA, loves the attention that he is getting from branch president Kim Gabites (left), and volunteers Samantha McIntyre and Veronica Marwitz.

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