RDA’s appeal to equestrians as social distancing proves a major challenge *H&H Plus*

  • As many riding schools have reopened and most competitive riders are able to head out for training and shows once again, the Riding for the Disabled Association is struggling to get back to normal as social distancing measures prove exceptionally difficult to navigate. H&H finds out more about the challenges being faced...

    Equestrians have been urged not to overlook a vital part of the industry that has still not been able to get back to any sort of normality.

    Although riding schools have reopened and competitions are running in most disciplines, the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) still has the handbrake on. Social distancing measures have allowed other equestrian activities to resume safely, but the nature of the RDA’s work means participants, volunteers and staff have to be close together.

    RDA chief executive Ed Bracher told H&H the organisation is supporting its groups to reopen but only about 20% have been able to, for on average less than 10% of their clients.

    “In total, we’re operating at about 2% of our activity base,” he said. “A lot of our work requires up-close and physical contact, so we can’t do it in a socially distant way. Making that happen is quite hard.”

    Mr Bracher added that many RDA participants, and volunteers, are classed as vulnerable, leading to a “double whammy” situation.

    H&H reported that the lack of riding during lockdown had had a significant effect on the mental and physical health of participants, and volunteers (news, 2 July).

    And although huge steps have been taken away from full lockdown since May, the social distancing requirements seem to be here to stay.

    “I can’t see those rules changing in the near future,” Mr Bracher said. “Our outlook in the short term is not great.”

    Many RDA groups have been coming up with novel ways of keeping in touch with riders, as well as raising vital funds to look after horses and venues, while the organisation is trying to support these, as well as those that are running or hope to reopen soon.

    “A key problem is keeping some centres financially viable,” Mr Bracher said. “If people want to help, they could do worse than look up their local group and see what support they need. The narrative seems to be that things are getting back to normal but for us, it absolutely isn’t and there’s a danger of us getting forgotten.

    “Please can the equestrian community support one of its more hard-hit parts.”

    Pauline Roestenburg, of Chalkdown RDA in Kent, told H&H the group, which rents Duckhurst Farm once a week for its sessions, is offering riding to about six riders, compared to its usual 30.

    “It’s only independent riders, not those who need help mounting, dismounting or actually riding,” she said, adding that the restrictions on numbers of people in the indoor arena also have an impact.

    Ms Roestenburg praised the RDA head office for its support, and the way groups have pulled together, to offer keep for each other’s horses, for example.

    “We’re desperate to get all the groups up and running,” she said. “Some have started with just one rider, but that is a start.”

    Welsh MP Janet Finch-Saunders campaigned for the Welsh government to allow indoor arenas to reopen this summer, to benefit Welsh RDA groups. This is now being determined on an individual basis.

    She said: “The benefits of equine therapy for people with a range of conditions and registered disabilities are well documented. It is why I was most concerned to learn from a recent survey that the prolonged closure of RDA groups was having a severe and negative impact on many members’ confidence, as well as their physical and mental well-being.

    “I urge local authorities and managers of equine arena facilities to actively cooperate with Welsh RDA groups so that their important work can resume. When you consider that equestrian indoor arenas are completely different to other indoor sport facilities, and that their spacious pens can often easily allow for adequate social distancing, I do believe that a safe route for return can be found.”

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