This week (30 September-6 October) is the Riding for the Disabled Association’s Celebration Week to mark the charity’s 50th anniversary.
RDA groups around the UK are hosting events and celebrations to coincide with the official formation of the RDA in the same week in 1969.
We take a look back to those early days and delve into the archives to find out how the RDA began…
After World War II, the therapeutic benefit of riding was more widely recognised, particularly for people with muscular dystrophy and polio.
The idea of the RDA started to gain momentum, especially when Danish dressage rider, Lis Hartel caused a sensation by winning silver medals for dressage in both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, despite having no muscle function in her lower legs. Lis’s success inspired a fledgling movement, which spread to the UK. Early pioneers included the Winford Orthopaedic Hospital near Bristol, the Pony Riding for the Disabled Trust in Chigwell, Essex, and the British Polio Fellowship.
The benefits of riding for children and adults with disabilities were increasingly being realised during the 1960s. In 1963 those involved started getting together for the exchange of ideas and knowledge and in 1964 a loose organisation was formed called the ‘Advisory Council on Riding for the Disabled’ (ACRD).
By 1966 there were already 23 known disabled riding groups around the UK and the disabled riding ‘movement’ was growing. In 1969, at the ACRD AGM, a revised constitution was presented to the Committee to create what would be known as Riding for the Disabled Association or RDA.
The RDA’s first President was Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk, and Her Royal Highness, The Princess Anne was their Patron. The Princess became President of the charity in 1976, a position she still holds today.
Fifty years in the making — how the RDA has grown in strength and depth over the past half a decade:
1969 — RDA formed
1975 — Carriage driving becomes an RDA activity. The first Blue Peter Appeal buys ‘Rags’ the pony.
1976 — HRH the Princess Royal becomes RDA President, a position she still holds today
1981 — The first RDA National RDA Dressage Championships takes place
1988 — Introduction of assessment and exams for RDA coaches
1989 — RDA’s second Blue Peter Appeal buys ‘Jet’
1994 — The RDA National Championships are held at Hartpury College for the first time. The championships have now grown to become the biggest event in the world for disabled riders. ‘Challenge Anneka’ builds indoor riding arena at Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre
1995 — RDA celebrates Jubilee anniversary. Spirit of RDA is published
1996 — Para dressage is included in the Paralympics for the first time, with team members Anne Dunham (who won gold in four consecutive Games), Liz Stone, Di Tubbs and Pat Straughan
1999 — RDA becomes a federation of member groups
2002 — RDA drivers take part in the first World Driving Championships
2005 — RDA becomes a member of the British Equestrian Federation, leading on all matters relating to equestrianism and disability.
2006 — RDA is official charity of Badminton Horse Trials and uses the event to raise more money than any charity before or since.
2010 — Showjumping is introduced as a new activity
2012 — At the Paralympic Games, held in London, all five of the Team GB Para riders started out with RDA
2013 — The RDA Tracker is launched to track and record the impact of RDA activities. ‘RDA Accessibility Mark’ is introduced to support commercial riding centres. Endurance becomes a new activity. Carriage driving is included at the National Championships for the first time. Head of Sport England, Jennie Price, acknowledges RDA as “an example of excellence in disability sport”.
2014 — RDA features on a collection of Royal Mail stamps called ‘Working Horses’.
2017 — RDA buys ‘Lowlands Farm’ to develop a national training centre, to train and inspire volunteers and coaches from around the UK
2018 — New coaching pathway launched
2019 — 50th anniversary and the launch of the RDA’s national training centre
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