Bryony started with the South Bucks branch of Riding for the Disabled (RDA) from the age of 8. As her Dad, I’ve got a lot of pleasure seeing how they have helped her overcome some of her problems whilst riding.
But before we get into that, I must confess that sometime in the last century I was also a keen horse rider: my mum had a horse called Blaze and, given her back problems, I became Blaze’s main rider for a few years. I mucked him out (sometimes), I prepared him for shows and won a few rosettes at the local Pony Club Events.
But while the few photos I have are of show events, my memories are quite different. I remember the togetherness of riding him over a round of small jumps with no saddle and no bridle (although I don’t remember how!). And my best memories are of sitting on his back revising for my “O” levels while he grazed on the grass in our small paddock. The type of togetherness that can bind man and animal, or, in this case, boy and horse. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school and Blaze was probably my best friend that summer.
So I can easily understand how the RDA has helped Bryony, how it continues to help, and hopefully help in the future. Her 45 minutes every Saturday morning are one of the top highlights of the week as she becomes a very different person. She becomes much more confident and self-assured, almost literally discarding her other issues as she gets on her horse at mid-day on Saturday. Her horse, whether it be Mabel or Billy, senses that Bryony is in charge. The horse may be led (usually by Hazel), but Bryony is definitely the boss. Her concentration is evident to us, her family, but we see something others don’t. We see that the issues and concerns that are very visible for most of the week are simply not there once she is riding. No-one is threatening her, or making fun of her, and that is clear from her appearance and confidence on the horse. I can’t remember when we last saw her have a fit on the horse, whilst she continues to have such episodes at home when she is not on a horse. Maybe it is the girl/horse relationship, maybe it is the nurturing and care of RDA staff, or more likely it is both of these. As Bryony puts it: the RDA is a second caring family to her and that’s an amazing thing to have when one is six foot up in the air on a very strong four-legged animal!
Bryony started this blog last year and we both hope that while it helps her, it can also help its readers, and can help others discover the pleasures – and very real benefits – provided by the RDA.
I was about 8 or 9 when I started horse riding at my local RDA Centre; I am now 20 years old. Through my time horse riding with the RDA I have found that riding isn’t just something I love to do and I look forward to it during the week. It has helped me in many different ways: one of the big ways it has helped me is with my disability.
When I was younger, horse riding was great physiotherapy for me. It was also very clever because I enjoyed it so much I didn’t see it as having to do my daily stretches and exercises my physiotherapist gave me.
Over the years horse riding has helped me build up my muscles and core strength. Horse riding has helped me to improve my balance massively. I remember when I first started riding and my instructor got us to do lots of different activities to help not only build up confidence and communication skills but to also make sure we were working our muscles safely. For example we had to do activities siting on bean bags or balancing a bean bag on our riding hat and try and make sure it didn’t fall off. This helped me to develop better posture in everyday life. At school I used to have problems writing and making sure my posture at the table was good or when I was eating a meal. I found that over time horse riding really helped me to develop better posture and now I can do tasks so much more easily. Doing this also helped me to see if I was sitting properly on the pony. If the bean bag fell off I learnt that my balance was not even and that I was sitting too far over on one side.
Horse riding has helped and continues to help me with my visual perception. I find seeing shapes challenging and this can be confusing. In my lessons I do a lot of work on riding circles evenly as I can sometimes make one side of my circle a lot bigger than the other. During my lessons I may change the rein and to do this I have to ride diagonally across the riding school so now I understand more about what a diagonal is.
Horse riding helps me with my spatial awareness and planning as I have to take into account the other horses and ponies in the school. For example I have to make sure if we are all lined up behind each other that we leave a safe distance between each of us. As well as this sometimes some of the horses and ponies in the class don’t get on very well so we may need to prepare more about who we chose to stand behind. As well as this in some of the activities we do, we may have to halt between cones or on “X” so I need to prepare my halt in advance and make sure my legs are forward and that I am sitting back into the saddle and don’t tip forward.
Lastly going horse riding at the RDA has helped me to feel less alone and not to feel ashamed of who I am because at school other kids bullied me because of my disability. When I’m at RDA I feel accepted and I can be myself.
At the moment I am helping to train the youngest pony at the stables: he is called Billy.
In my horse riding lessons I have worked with him a lot. He has now got so much better doing work in the school with other horses and ponies being in the same arena as him. I have done quite a lot of with him to improve his circles and also making sure he is on the track and goes into the corners. With Billy I do have to work more on making sure he is listening to me as he gets easily distracted and likes to look out of the school doors and see what’s going on.
Recently Billy and I took part in a dressage competition with Dressage Anywhere.This was Billy’s first ever time competing in a dressage competition.
On the day of the dressage competition Billy was fantastic. He was very curious and did enjoy looking at himself in the mirror at times. He was also very interested in the video camera. We joke a lot and say that we think Billy quite fancies being a model. During our dressage routine Billy did amazingly: he was alert but also listening to me. He seemed to take everything in his stride. I was so proud of him especially because it was his first ever dressage competition, so I wasn’t sure how he would react to doing things in the school by himself with no other horses or ponies around with him.
Here is a small clip of different things we did for our dressage.
Billy and I came 1st in the dressage competition which was brilliant: we scored 71.39%. I am so proud of him and how far he has come in such a short space of time. He really is a pot of gold!
I have been volunteering at a farm for a few months now; we recently welcomed to new ponies called Boyce and Pip to the farm. They are both brother and sister and it’s been a fantastic to get to know them both and learn about each of their personalities and cheeky traits.
One of the first things I loved about Boyce was his furry moustache. We all find it funny when we take off his rugs because he is all shiny clean from where the rugs been but his legs are just covered in mud we like to say he’s got brown boots on. Boyce doesn’t really like females handling him he much prefers men. We are not too sure why this might be but we think he might have had a bad experience with a female from his past handling him. At the moment we are trying to help Boyce feel more relaxed and safe towards females handling him and stroking him. It is very important we try and build up his confidence and feels more comfortable with females because the farm offers birthday parties and the children who come straight away run up to the ponies and want to stroke them.
To try and help Boyce feel more safe and confident and not so scared around females we have been trying to do small tasks with him daily. For example we will give him his food separate to Pip and whilst he is eating I will just talk to him softly and calmly. We have tried stroking him by just putting our hand out and waiting for him to come to us but sometimes he will come up to us girls and want to bite us. However he is starting to feel more confident around females and we are going to try and do some ground work activities with him in the summer for example going over poles and in and out of cones once he feels safer and he begins to trust us more. Boyce is also in charge as he doesn’t like the little Shetland ponies we have and he has tried to have a fight with one of our pigs Wilbur through the bars of the fence.
Pip is a very sweet, gentle and calm girl who can be very shy at times but once she sees you with a camera she loves posing for you. She is definitely not camera shy! Unlike Boyce Pip prefers females and tends to dislike men. We think Pip had a bad experience with a man in the past. When they first arrived at the farm Pip was definitely more curious. To build up her confidence we did some one on one ground work activities with her. Pip enjoys being groomed so we did this with her a little and often to help build up her confidence.We have done circle work with her too and now in the week she does lunging.
Now that Pip is more relaxed around us we are now getting to know more about her, she is a very adventurous pony who likes to explore. In the summer who hope to take her out on short walks around the woods and do some ground work activities with her like a little obstacle course.
Recently it snowed at the farm; here is a video of Pip playing in the puddle after the snow melted.