Cambridge Freemasons Support Riding for the Disabled Association 

May 17,2024

Business And Management

Cambridge Freemasons Support Riding for the Disabled Association 

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), specifically the College group in Cambridge, recently received a generous boost to its fundraising efforts. Members of Cantabrigia Lodge, a local Freemason group, contributed a substantial £800 donation. Freemasonry emphasizes charity as a fundamental tenet. Oliver Parr, a Cantabrigia Lodge member and horse industry professional, found the RDA to be a natural fit for this act of generosity. 

Oliver, deeply familiar with the costs associated with equestrian care, explained, "It goes beyond the horses themselves. We must consider insurance, equipment like tack and rugs, along with specialized treatments like physiotherapy and veterinary visits. It gives me great pleasure to support the valuable work of our local RDA branch." 

RDA – Empowering Disabled Riders 

The RDA College group in Cambridge caters to young, disabled adults providing therapeutic riding lessons and equestrian activities. Run solely by dedicated volunteers, the program offers weekly sessions designed for individuals aged 16 to 30. Participants experience benefits across physical, sensory, and cognitive domains, with many enjoying a sense of community and accomplishment. 

Gillian Newsum, the RDA College chairman, elaborated, "The riders thrive with increased physical activity and close contact with the horses. They adore the tactile element as much as the riding itself. Additionally, these sessions promote social interaction and build confidence with each achievement. For many participants, this becomes a weekly highlight." 

Typically, around five students partake in group lessons. The RDA bears the responsibility of acquiring and maintaining the horses. Gillian emphasizes, "Running a program like this requires relentless fundraising to address the significant expenses. This £800 donation is a tremendous help towards our commitment to acquiring a new horse." 

A Symbiotic Partnership 

Interestingly, the RDA horses reside at the College of West Anglia in Milton, enrolled in a working livery arrangement. This benefits both the RDA riders and students pursuing equine and horse care courses at the college. The animals experience diverse workloads through various ridden activities and practical lessons on stable management and horse anatomy. It was during Oliver's own studies at the college that he witnessed first-hand the RDA's transformative impact. 

The Unique Challenges Faced by RDA Riders 

RDA riders face a specific set of challenges. Many have physical disabilities, and the horses' movement provides valuable physiotherapy while simultaneously improving core strength and balance. Others may have learning disabilities, for whom the routine and structure of riding activities offer a clear framework and a sense of control. In addition, some riders may experience sensory issues, where close interaction with a gentle, responsive horse can be tremendously calming. 

Linda Johnson, a seasoned RDA volunteer, shares a heartwarming story: "We had one young man join us who was initially very withdrawn and rarely spoke. Week after week, his bond with his horse deepened. Slowly but surely, he began to communicate with the horse, then with other riders and volunteers. It was remarkable to witness his transformation." 

Volunteers – The Heart of the RDA 

Unsurprisingly, volunteers are the lifeblood of the RDA. They assume multifaceted roles in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for riders. Some act as leaders, guiding the horses during lessons, while others serve as side-walkers, providing vital support and reassurance to the riders. Additionally, practical tasks like tacking up the horses and maintaining the yard are undertaken with commitment and enthusiasm by volunteers. 

The RDA offers comprehensive training, preparing volunteers for their roles and equipping them with the skills to assist riders with varying needs. "It's not only incredibly rewarding, but it gives you a different perspective on life," says Sarah Davis, who has been an RDA volunteer for over three years. "The sense of camaraderie amongst volunteers is wonderful too." 

Expanding Horizons through Competition 

Remarkably, the RDA provides opportunities for riders to progress and even compete regionally and nationally. These events represent a culmination of training, dedication, and sheer joy in horsemanship. Competitor categories cater to different abilities, featuring elements such as dressage and country riding. Riders take immense pride in representing their local RDA, building their self-esteem and challenging themselves to achieve new heights. 

How You Can Help 

The Cambridge College RDA branch, like so many similar organizations, relies on the generosity of individuals and community groups. Donations, however large or small, make a tangible difference in keeping their program running and allowing them to support more riders. 

Additionally, volunteering your time is an invaluable way to contribute. Whether you have prior experience with horses or simply possess a willingness to learn and a compassionate nature, the RDA welcomes inquiries from potential volunteers. Spreading the word about this outstanding organization within your own network is yet another way to support their work. 



A Day in the Life of an RDA Horse 

The life of an RDA horse is undoubtedly unique. They are carefully selected for their gentle temperaments, patience, and suitability for carrying riders of varying abilities. A typical day for them might begin with being turned out into a paddock for some relaxation and grazing time. This is essential for their physical and mental well-being, allowing them to socialize with other horses and simply unwind. 

Later on, the volunteers prepare the horses for lessons. Grooming sessions are not merely about keeping them looking their best. They are opportunities to check for any health concerns like cuts, scrapes, or signs of discomfort. Tacking up follows, with saddles, bridles, and sometimes additional safety equipment properly fitted for each rider. 

During lessons, the horses demonstrate remarkable adaptability. One moment, they might be working with a beginner who requires a calm, steady pace. In the next lesson, they could be helping a more experienced rider practice advanced dressage movements. The horses respond to subtle cues and voice commands, their intelligence and willingness a constant source of wonder for both volunteers and riders. 

Caring for RDA Horses 

Naturally, such dedicated animals require top-notch care in return for their service. The RDA has stringent guidelines in place to ensure their horses' welfare. Each horse receives regular veterinary check-ups, including vaccinations and dental care, all of which helps to ensure longevity and a good quality of life. Experienced farriers keep their hooves healthy and well-trimmed, an essential aspect of equine health. 

Nutrition is another vital element. RDA horses receive carefully formulated diets designed to maintain their energy levels and overall condition. Volunteers monitor their weight and adjust their feed as needed. Comfortable, well-maintained stables provide shelter, particularly important during inclement weather. 

When It's Time to Retire 

Even the most devoted RDA horses eventually reach a point where they retire from active riding. The well-being of the horses remains paramount. The RDA may place retired horses in suitable "companion homes," where they continue to receive excellent care. In some cases, horses may be partially retired, perhaps taking on lighter duties or working with beginner riders. This transition period is always handled with sensitivity to the individual horse's needs. 

The Transformative Power of RDA 

The impact of the Riding for the Disabled Association extends far beyond tangible equestrian skills. The riders and their families often form a close-knit supportive community. "My daughter has made so many friends through the RDA," said parent Karen Smith. "It's become a place where she feels truly understood and accepted." 

The RDA offers more than horseback riding; it provides a sense of belonging, a place to challenge oneself, and the pure joy that comes from a connection with a magnificent animal. 

Beyond Horseback Riding: Other RDA Activities 

While riding is a cornerstone of the RDA experience, they offer other fantastic programs for disabled individuals. Carriage driving provides a unique perspective and alternative way to interact with horses. Specially designed carriages accommodate varying abilities, and participants enjoy the thrill of being steered by their dedicated equine partner. 

For those who might prefer a quieter pace, Vaulting sessions offer a different kind of equestrian experience. Vaulting, sometimes considered gymnastics on horseback, involves graceful, choreographed movements on a specially trained horse moving at a gentle canter. This activity promotes balance, coordination, and creativity. 

The RDA recognizes the power of connection that extends beyond the animals themselves. Some branches offer horticulture programs, providing a therapeutic environment where participants can learn about plants, work outdoors, and cultivate a sense of responsibility as they care for their gardens. Other enriching activities might include arts and crafts, or even music sessions where the rhythmic nature of the music can be incredibly soothing for those with sensory sensitivities. 

Success Stories: The RDA in Action 

The true impact of the RDA is best reflected in the individual stories of its participants. Take Tom, for instance, a young man with autism who initially struggled with social interactions and coordination. After several months of riding at his local RDA, his parents noticed a marked improvement in his confidence and ability to regulate his emotions. The horse seemed to provide a safe and non-judgmental space for Tom to express himself. 

Emily is another example. A car accident left her with a spinal cord injury and confined to a wheelchair. Through the RDA, she discovered carriage driving. The sport empowered her, giving her a newfound sense of control and independence. Emily now competes at a national level, a testament to her determination and the transformative potential offered by the RDA. 

These are just two examples among many. The RDA website features a collection of inspiring testimonials showcasing the diverse ways the organization helps people with disabilities. 

How to Find Your Local RDA 

If you, a family member, or someone you know could benefit from the RDA, finding your nearest group is easy. The national Riding for the Disabled Association website  has a handy search feature to locate groups in your area. 

Most RDA groups welcome visitors. Contact your local branch to inquire about their programs, volunteer opportunities, or arrange a time to observe their sessions in action. 

The Future of the RDA 

The Riding for the Disabled Association has a proud history spanning over 50 years. As the organization looks to the future, its commitment to enriching the lives of disabled individuals remains steadfast. The RDA aims to increase accessibility by working with more schools and community groups, opening the door to equestrian activities for a wider range of participants. 

The focus on technological advancements also plays a role in shaping the RDA's future. There is a growing interest in incorporating simulators into programs, especially for those who might initially be apprehensive about riding a live horse. Simulators can offer a safe and controlled environment to build confidence and riding skills. 

Furthermore, the RDA recognizes the evolving understanding of therapeutic approaches. Research into the benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) continues to develop, offering potential for the RDA to expand its program offerings and collaborate with healthcare professionals in addressing physical and mental health needs. 

The Importance of Your Support 

The RDA's invaluable work is made possible by the generosity of donors, the tireless dedication of volunteers, and the incredible spirit of the horses themselves. There are numerous ways you can make a difference: 

Donate: Even a modest donation can help purchase vital equipment, fund horse care, or assist with the transportation of riders to and from sessions. 

Volunteer: From side walking to fundraising, the RDA offers a variety of opportunities to suit different skills and availability. 

Spread the Word: Share the RDA's mission with your friends, family, and social networks. Simply raising awareness can be a powerful way to support the organization. 

Attend an RDA Event: Many RDA groups host fundraising events throughout the year. This is a fun way to show your support while enjoying a day out in the company of these remarkable horses. 

Final Thoughts 

The Riding for the Disabled Association isn't merely about horses and riding. It's about unlocking potential, fostering personal growth, and creating a sense of belonging for individuals who may otherwise experience limitations. The RDA is a testament to the power of horses to heal, empower, and inspire. As they say within the organization, "It's what you CAN do that counts." 

If you've been moved by this article or feel a personal connection to the RDA's work, take action today. Your contribution, whether in time, resources, or simply sharing this message, can help make a lasting difference in the lives of countless individuals. 

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