Disabled riding faces national crisis in finding right horses *H&H Plus*

  • RDA waiting lists are growing and riders waiting longer owing to groups’ struggles to find suitable horses. H&H speaks to groups and the charity to find out more

    RIDING for the Disabled Association (RDA) groups are facing a nationwide “crisis” as they struggle to find suitable horses and ponies, meaning reduced sessions and lengthy waiting lists.

    The charity said that misconceptions about the type of horse groups are looking for, plus increased prices and demand in general, are making it increasingly difficult for groups to source horses, and the pandemic is exacerbating the problem. Some groups have waiting lists of up to 150 riders.

    RDA equine and competitions coordinator Emma Bayliss told H&H groups are “crying out” for younger, healthy, athletic horses with good temperaments, who can take part in activities including showjumping, vaulting and carriage driving.

    “I receive weekly calls from people saying ‘I have the ideal RDA horse’ – their perception of the ideal RDA horse – and it might have had a suspensory ligament issue or arthritis,” she said. “They think horses that aren’t great for a ridden career any more would be great for us – but generally we use ridden horses for the therapy we do on the ground; they need to multitask because groups can’t pay to keep horses just to do work on the ground.

    “The public probably aren’t aware of all the disciplines we do and assume it’s all pony-patting and walking around, so we’re really trying to raise our profile from that perspective.”

    Penniwells RDA has a waiting list of 83 riders, some of whom have been on the list for two years. Centre manager Sarah Healing told H&H she has been trying to find a 15hh–15.2hh cob type for almost three years.

    “I like to source seven- to nine-year-olds. We don’t want retired ponies, we want them at their peak. I don’t tend to go over 14 to 15 because you’ve probably only got three or four years of them in work and it can take some of our riders that long to build up a bond with them,” she said.

    Sarah added that some owners are reluctant for their horses to join the RDA as they have the wrong impression about riders.

    “There is nothing worse than spotting the perfect horse or pony and someone saying, ‘I don’t want it to do RDA.’ It’s really sad,” she said.

    “Some people have a misconception that riders are going to be bouncing about or pulling them around and that’s not what it is – they just have this image they can’t get away from. RDA riders are taught to ride just as well as anyone able-bodied and for some reason people haven’t caught up to the fact of how good our riders are; they sit beautifully, they love the horses and they care about improving.”

    Nantwich & District RDA group chair Sheila Saner told H&H the struggle to find horses has become a “crisis” with reduced sessions having a “detrimental effect” on riders.

    “If we haven’t got the horses, we can’t take the riders. Our riders need continuity – this may be their only form of exercise and whether it has therapeutic or physical benefits, they need it to be constant,” she said.

    “Price has a lot to do with it; horses have become more expensive and the sort we’re looking for are like gold dust. In many cases, we’ve had to buy horses that are slightly older than we would like because they’re in our price range.”

    RDA chief executive Ed Bracher told H&H sourcing horses has been a growing problem and added that the number of riding schools shutting down has added to this.

    “We have groups based in riding schools and with the number of schools turning into livery yards, particularly in the last year, the school horses we used to have access to are becoming liveries and may or may not be available to us,” he said.

    “The issue has been exacerbated during Covid by the increased demand for horses generally – there is a much faster turnaround, which means those that are available are being snapped up really quickly. We’ve seen horses that would be great for us sold the same day they come on the market. As a charity, we have to make sure we’re protecting the money people give us, so we won’t take a horse without vetting it – and ideally it would have a trial.”

    Mr Bracher said that while there is no “obvious” solution to the problem, he is appealing to those selling horses to consider the RDA as an option.

    “We give horses a good life and home, but it would be helpful if people could respect the fact that we need slightly more time to sort things out than your everyday client. Where it’s possible, give us a second to get in there; from a point of due diligence and being a responsible organisation, we can’t react just as quickly as an individual.”

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