A Lincolnshire based equestrian centre is helping to bring disabled people together through a newly formed Friday Morning Club.
The club at Four Winds Equestrian Centre in Spalding is a unique non-riding session developed to allow disabled people to spend time with horses, while socialising and making new friends.
Four Winds is an Accessibility Mark approved centre so this provides another avenue for disabled people to get involved with horses, without the pressure of taking to the saddle.
Accessibility Mark is a nationwide joint scheme between Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and the British Equestrian Federation to provide more riding opportunities for disabled people.
Kirsty Sweeney from the centre explains how the idea for the club was born: “I met a lady who had been around horses all her life and had even run a riding school at one point. About seven years ago she had a major stroke and lost movement down the right hand side of her body and it also badly affected her speech.
“All she wanted to do was to be with horses again, to stroke them and groom them. It got me thinking that there must be lots of other people like her out there that would like the same thing and the more I looked into it, speaking to local carers and social prescribers, the group slowly started to form.”
Although still in its early stages the club now runs every other Friday morning between 10.30 and 11.30, when the riding school is closed so the yard is less busy and quieter. This works well for some individuals who can easily become over-whelmed in large groups of people or noisy environments.
Two of the centres ponies, Jack and Soldier are the centre of attention for the session and love all the fuss. Members of the club enjoy a range of activities including grooming and pony painting.
As well as spending time with the ponies, everyone gets to socialise over a drink and biscuit, which has proved to be a really important part of the morning not only for the individuals but for their families and support staff too. Emotional support dog, Theo also comes to the session with his owner and loves to get involved with everyone.
A number of individuals have been introduced to the group through social prescribers who work within the local NHS Trust, whose job it is to connect people to local community groups to help with developing skills, friendships and social skills.
“I had never heard of social prescribers but through talking to them, I have come to understand how socially isolated disabled people and people with mental health issues can be and this is how the social side of the group grew.” added Kirsty.
The benefits of this session are huge for all involved, although different for each individual. For some just being around horses lowers their anxiety levels and for those with social and emotional issues, interacting with the ponies makes them feel less judged, mocked or criticised so their confidence grows.
“One of our participants is non-verbal but will talk loudly and clearly whenever he is communicating with the ponies. It also helps with attention span and focus and is a great sensory experience for individuals who are deaf and blind.”
The knock on effect of spending time with the group is already helping members in other areas of their lives as a few young ladies with autism now regularly meet up outside the group and keep in contact through social media. It has also started to form a network of carers and families who can support each other.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial to participants of varying levels of disability.
For more information contact Four Winds Equestrian Centre on 01775 640533.
There are currently 55 Accessibility Mark-approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk