As our series with Cotswold RDA comes to an end, we look back on an eventful year.
ALL too quickly, it seems our time with Cotswold RDA has come to an end. We’ve met the ponies, riders and volunteers, shared in their successes and challenges and had a lot of fun along the way.
As Christmas comes to RDA, we take a last look at what it means for the charity’s 25,000 disabled adults and children to be part of the RDA “family” – and join in their festive celebrations, too.
“We know that Christmas time at RDA is really special, not just for our riders and families but for our volunteers, too,” Debbie, Yard Manager at Cotswold RDA, says as she adjusts the tinsel on Flyer’s bridle. “There’s so much to celebrate after a busy year.”
Debbie is getting Flyer and his friends ready for the group’s Christmas ride – a choreographed ride with music and song and no shortage of festive cheer.
Riders and their families will join in, too, and it’s a chance for everyone to let their hair down. Coupled with several awards ceremonies and a party in the new year, the group certainly doesn’t miss an opportunity to celebrate the friendships, achievements and fun of RDA.
“Our job is to create a place of fun and security that our riders want to come to regardless of what else might be happening in their lives,” Debbie explains. “Sometimes it’s hard being a disabled child at school. Or a teenager who can’t join in with everyone else, or an adult who feels isolated through a lack of mobility.
“We can’t change the rest of the week, but we can make RDA a real highlight – and at this time of year we make an extra special effort to ensure that everyone feels included.” Christmas is also a time to reflect on the year past. And what a year it has been.
“It seems like five minutes ago we were welcoming ‘The People’s Friend’ to Cotswold for the first time,” Debbie says. “Toffee was being put through his paces, our sensory ride was being opened for the first time and we had no idea what the coming months would bring.”
As the year unfolded there were successes in the form of national competitions, volunteer training, rider proficiency tests, new ponies – as well as the personal achievements of the group’s 160 riders.
What challenges there were – having to call time on Toffee’s training, and the ongoing search for donations – are part of life at RDA, with the group remaining strong and cheerful throughout. Debbie is sharing a Santa’s sack of goodies with the ponies as we talk about the group’s plans for next year.
“There’s always so much to look forward to,” she says. “We’re raising money for a new stable block to make it easier for riders to learn about looking after the ponies.”
“We’re helping more riders through the ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) education programme; we’ve just launched an online shop; we’re expanding the sensory walk and obviously carrying on our usual activities for our participants. Bring on 2018!”
The ponies are looking suitably festive in their Santa hats, tinsel and scarves as Debbie leads them off to join the Christmas ride. Around the UK this Christmas RDA groups will be bringing their riders, carriage drivers, volunteers and supporters together in celebration of this wonderful charity and everyone who makes it possible for disabled people to benefit from the joy of horses. “Happy Christmas,” Debbie calls, as she waves us goodbye. “We’ll miss you!”