Disabled Riding for Children: FAQ

What are the benefits of riding?

Horse riding is a non-weight-bearing activity which can benefit riders with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, cerebral vascular accident, development delay, Down’s syndrome, learning or language disabilities, multiple sclerosis and injuries resulting from an accident.

There are significant physical benefits from therapeutic riding: the warmth and three dimensional movement of the horse are transmitted through the rider’s body, gradually making them more relaxed and supple strengthening core stability, reducing spasms and allowing improved balance, posture and coordination. We often have clients recommended to us by medical professionals, including physios and OTs.

We use the movement of the horse or pony within a riding session to stimulate the desired response in a rider. The riding session content (stretches and exercises) plus riding school movements (straight lines, circles, serpentines) and changes of pace (usually halt, walk and trot) add to the riding experience.

Riding can also have strong recreational and psychological benefits – freedom of movement, increased confidence and self-esteem, taking control, decision making, building relationships and improving communication skills

Riders are also offered an element of risk, often denied to them elsewhere, giving them a sense of achievement and the chance to regain some mobility to those who may have lost it through accident or serious illness. Riders with congenital disabilities discover a new freedom in movement and those with progressive diseases can retain mobility and remain active for longer.

Our ultimate aim is to improve a rider’s posture, balance, communication, confidence, self-esteem and gross and fine motor skills, whilst enjoying a relationship with volunteers and the horse and having fun!


Will riding suit my child?

Our RDA programme accepts riders with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, sensory problems and mental health issues. Riders need to be 4 years old and already at Reception or older; they need some upper body stability – to be able to sit up unaided; they need to be within our weight limit (currently 12 st 7 lbs, 79kg); they need to want to ride and they need to be able to accept and follow (simple) instructions. Once offered a place a rider will ride weekly, on the same lesson, with the same coach, pony and support team.


Why ride with the RDA?

The aim of the national charity Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is to provide the opportunity for riding, vaulting and carriage driving to disabled people who might benefit in their general health and well- being.

There are almost 500 member groups of the RDA in the UK providing facilities for riding, vaulting and carriage driving for 28,000 people with developmental problems, learning -difficulties and other disabilities. The Avon Riding Centre for the Disabled is one of the largest centres in the country and has been operating for over 30 years and offers riding and vaulting.

Professional coaches follow a prescribed training programme managed and assessed by RDA national representatives. They measure and chart riders progress and set goals and targets.

Experienced helpers help with the ponies and riders under the guidance of the coach. Volunteers are committed and highly trained and, along with employees, are DBS checked.

We have access to special equipment to help riders feel comfortable and support their riding (including special reins and mechanical hoists).

There are structured educational opportunities for riders, including tests, exams and the chance to represent us and compete at the RDA’s annual National Championship – the biggest event of its kind in the world!

Riding with the RDA allows friendships to grow, sharing experiences, ideas and views with like-minded people in a non-for-profit environment.

How much does it cost?

Weekly 30 minute group lessons cost £12; 45 minute lessons cost £15 a week; private simulator lesson (30 minutes) costs £16.50. Lessons are invoiced half termly (6 or 7 weeks) in advance. The costs of our RDA lessons are subsidised, by the fundraising that we do.

How long is the waiting list?

The children’s (age 0-18) waiting list currently has approximately 90 applications; many children wait 18 months for a place.

Why is the waiting list so long?

Ultimately, it’s long because our resources are finite. It’s also long because it works. RDA riding is a proven therapy with visible benefits and the demand is great. Once a place has been offered, riders often stay with us for many years. We currently offer almost 200 riding opportunities each week during term time. We rarely reject an application, although sometimes we may defer a start date.  A child will be invited to start lessons when a suitable group and suitable pony become available.

Why does it matter what pony my child rides?

Ponies come in lots of different sizes, shapes, capability and temperament types, just like our riders. It is important that we match ponies and riders to ensure maximum comfort, relaxation, cooperation and ultimately the best therapeutic results. As a rider grows and/or improves their riding skills, the choice of pony will change.

Why does it matter which group my child rides in?

We have 39 group lessons each week. It is important that riders are grouped according to their capability and potential so that whilst they might progress at slightly different speeds, the group works in the same range of ability. For example, we would not put a rider who can work independently at walk trot and canter in a group where all other riders work on the lead rein at walk. Nor would we mix a group of riders who are keen to improve their technical riding skills with a group who prefer to play games or enjoy a walk in the woods. If we carefully match riders in a group lesson, all of them will benefit.

Why don’t you operate in after-school hours?

Most of our riding lessons take place during the school day. There are a few lessons on a Monday evening for advanced independent riders and a few on a Saturday morning largely for teenagers in mainstream schools. It has been our experience that schools, both mainstream and special schools, understand and accept the benefits of the work we do and are willing to release children during the school day. Not counting groups who come with their school, we currently have over 50 children who have leave to ride during the school day.

Can children come with schools?

Yes, we already work with schools that bring groups of riders each week – Briarwood (Primary and Senior), New Siblands (Primary and Senior), Woodstock (Primary) and New Fosseway.

What happens in the school holidays?

It is a chance for our horses, coaches and arena volunteers to enjoy a break. However, we often offer some different riding/horse experiences during the holidays, including stable management and horse knowledge, simulator lessons, private riding lessons and vaulting.

What happens when my child gets to the top of the waiting list?

As riders get close to the top of the list, they will be invited to come for a riding assessment. We will ask them to do some simple ridden exercises, observe their position and balance, establish their communication skills and their level of understanding, risk assess them in a riding environment and judge which pony would best suit them, what support team or special equipment they need and which would be the most suitable lesson for them. We also like to establish what the rider expects from riding and when they are available to ride. If the assessment is successful and a space is available on a suitable lesson, an offer of a weekly place will usually be made very quickly.


How many lessons can they have?

Once a rider accepts a place on our RDA programme they may stay indefinitely, subject to our Ts&Cs.

Are there any other activities on offer here?

At the moment we only offer horse based activities – simulator, riding, vaulting, stable management and horse care and unmounted sensory sessions. We are currently negotiating to expand support and activities for disabled clients, these might include falconry, gardening, etc.