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Beleaguered RDA centre ‘overwhelmed’ by offers to foster injured ponies

A Riding for the Disabled (RDA) group has said it is “overwhelmed” by the kindness of strangers after an appeal to foster their ponies who needed rehabilitation received multiple offers of help within hours.

A run of bad luck has meant that only one of the five ponies at Saxon Group RDA, in Bradford On Avon, Wilts, is currently able to work and a major loss of income during the pandemic has impacted the group’s ability to pay for their keep.

The ponies are usually kept on working livery at Widbrook Riding School and are then used one day a week by the RDA, with the income from the RDA sessions paying for the ponies’ bills.

But social distancing measures have meant the group has been unable to run any ridden sessions since the outbreak and their weekly income has fallen from £320 to just £40.

“Covid hit us in a big way and since then it’s just been one thing after another,” group chairman Kady Chatman said.

“The ponies all went out for the summer as a herd and it was nice for them to have a bit of a rest, but when the restrictions started to lift and we started to put them back into work, they had their regular physio checks and started to show some problems.”

Cob mare Flo had to be put down after she was diagnosed with wobblers and her condition deteriorated, while another pony, Caellyn Haf, has required surgery for kissing spines.

Nine-year-old Stanley sustained a stifle injury in the field, while Jacko, 12, a former beach pony who was rescued from slaughter, has also developed a problem with his back since dropping fitness.

Only Saxon, seven, has been able to carry on working and he is also used for weekly grooming sessions with the RDA members.

“The riding school has been brilliant and have done all they can, but it’s hard for everyone at the moment — they’re unable to take on beginners because of social distancing measures and are currently only operating for three days a week,” Kady said.

“Herd turnout is also the only option there and for the ponies on rehab, they need small or restricted turnout. We were left in the position where we had to put a plea out for help.

“At the minute there is no end in sight with the Covid situation and we have no idea how long it is going to take us until we are back up and able to offer riding again,” she added.

The group put out an appeal to local riders and in local media for temporary foster homes for the ponies and Kady said she was astounded when she received more than 10 emails within 30 minutes of the information going live. Families from as far away as Cornwall offered to help and a number of potential fosterers are due to be home-checked this weekend.

“It’s just incredible that people have been so generous when so many are going through hard times themselves,” she said. “Once we already had a number of people offering homes, we set up a page for donations and asked anyone offering to help if they would mind donating to that instead. We raised more than £340 in a day. I have just been so touched by it.”

Saxon RDA group, which has a waiting list of people wanting to join, has been very successful in recent years. Not only were they able to raise sufficient funds to buy five ponies and a hoist but they had also received national recognition. Last year the group’s vice-chairman and coach Jo Rutherford was named RDA volunteer of the year, while in 2017 member Darren Ashton was named RDA rider of the year.

Darren, 27, whose father Stephen is the group’s treasurer, is one of several who were significantly impacted when the group’s ridden activities were forced to stop.

“Darren has Freidreichs’s ataxia [spinocerebellar degeneration] and riding helped with his balance and improved his stability and muscle tone. Since he stopped being able to ride he has fallen out of his wheelchair twice — the first time he got a concussion and the second time he broke his ankle. We have members who are physically deteriorating.” Kady said.

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“For other people it’s the only time they leave their care home. It’s the one day they get to see a friendly face and spend some time with a horse — at least we are still able to offer that with our non-riding activities.”

Kady added that two local RDA groups had been forced to close permanently because of Covid, while others were surviving as best they could with intergroup pony loans and other adaptations.

“When we come out of this there will definitely be fewer RDA groups and there was already higher demand than there was places,” she said.

Donations to Saxon RDA can be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/saxon-rda-is-in-desperate-need-of-donations

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