The trainee RDA pony starts taking part in lessons.
As Toffee continues to settle in well at Cotswold RDA, he has started carrying out the life-changing work of providing therapeutic rides to disabled children.
This month, we meet Skye, one of the lucky riders who will benefit from spending time with him.
Toffee’s training has been going so well that the coaches and helpers at Cotswold RDA thought it was time that he made the next big step and was introduced to one of his riders.
Eight-year-old Skye has been looking lovingly at Toffee for the past month or so and was so excited when her coach, Sue Stevenson, said it was time for her to start riding him.
The benefits of riding.
Skye has been riding with RDA since January 2016, but had been waiting for a place for over three years.
This is not unusual at RDA, where demand often exceeds availability.
RDA Groups all rely on a combination of volunteers, suitable horses, and grants and donations to the charity to help as many disabled people as possible.
But for the lucky ones who do have a place, the benefits can be far-reaching and long-lasting. That is certainly echoed by Skye’s mum, Ruth.
“Riding has been great for Skye,” she said. “Due to her cerebral palsy, she has a life filled with physio, stretches and exercises. We try to find ways to incorporate these exercises into fun activities for her, so she doesn’t feel she is always missing out.
“She loves riding, and we can see how it is strengthening her core muscles as her balance improves, both on the pony and off him! She is very proud that she can now balance on her scooter!”
And it’s not only Skye’s mum who sees a difference. Her school teacher has also noticed the change.
“Skye looks forward to going to her horse-riding sessions every week. Since starting her riding lessons, her confidence has grown greatly and her balance and strength is constantly improving,” she said.
Asked why she loves Toffee so much, Skye answered, “Because he is the perfect size for me and he is very cute! He also behaves himself when I am riding him and it strengthens my legs because I have to squeeze with my legs to let Toffee know what to do and where to go.
“He’s also very good at trotting, which is my favourite part of the lesson because it helps me with my balance.”
“Skye loves practising her rising trot,” Skye’s RDA coach Sue Stevenson said, “and Toffee is very happy to oblige.
“Skye is working very hard at the moment to get her Grade Three riding and horse care so that she can get her Riding badge from Brownies.
“Certainly since Skye has been riding Toffee we have seen a real improvement in her development.”
Until recently, Skye and her friends were only able to ride during school terms, but thanks to funding from BBC Children in Need the group has been able to offer activities during the holidays for the first time.
The children and the ponies have all enjoyed the gymkhanas and the picnic rides, and keeping up with their practice during holiday time means the benefits from their term-time riding lessons are maintained, too.
There is more excitement for Toffee and Skye as they are going to be entered for the first time in a dressage competition.
This is something completely new for both of them, but Sue and the team at Cotswold feel confident they are up to the challenge.
As Skye says, “Out of all my different activities I think riding is the best. I would quite like to ride horses in the circus one day, or maybe even in the Paralympics!”
We look forward to finding out how they get on.
Return to our Riding for the Disabled Association page.
Read the next part in the story, testing times!