Charity gives riders chance to saddle up
When she started Kesteven Rideability in 1988, Karen Thompson had no idea just how many lives it would touch and how it would still be going strong 30 years on. Kate Chapman hears her story.
Since establishing the group at her riding school – the Paddocks Riding Centre, in Hough on the Hill, near Grantham – Karen and her team of dedicated volunteers have worked with people from all walks of life, providing education, recreation and relaxation opportunities as well as offering riders the chance to compete locally and in national competitions too.
At its peak the scheme had 100 members and although its core group is now smaller, its ponies still gave 450 rides to disabled children and adults in the Kesteven area last year alone. As well as opportunities for weekly riding lessons, Kesteven Rideability offers riding holidays in Wales and this summer launched Silver Hour – an innovative programme of equine therapy for older disabled adults, which enables them to experience and benefit from being with horses and ponies in a safe and supported environment.
Karen had just started her own riding school when she was approached about setting up a rideability scheme – initially offering an hour’s riding a week to a group of local disabled children.
“It really just grew from there, over the years we’ve gained charity status, our numbers went up to 100 and although we’re smaller now, we’re still a very strong group,” says Karen, whose yard also offers livery services, adult riding lessons and competitive coaching.
“We’ve had lots of people help us over the years; there have been countless volunteers who have given up their time. When we started out I never envisaged we’d still be doing this thirty years later but for me the standout thing over all that time has been helping people achieve their aim – no matter how big or small it is.
“Whether they want to compete or just be able to sit on the horse properly for the first time – seeing them achieve their goals is absolutely wonderful.”
The charity runs a weekly Saddle Club and working alongside the National Curriculum and local schools it also provides education, with youngsters benefitting from the interaction with horses and volunteers. Karen says this in turn helps develop literacy and numeracy in a fun, innovative way while improving core stability and co-ordination through riding.
She adds that learning to ride in a relaxed setting also provides the opportunity for people to make new friends and share experiences.
“Horses are fantastic therapy – everybody gets something out of the experience; when you are with a horse, you’re in the moment, so it’s good for mindfulness. Whether you’re riding, or grooming or leading a horse you’re developing a connection with it.”
There are physical benefits too – riding demands symmetry, you need to be balanced and there’s a lot of movement to deal with.
“People who have mobility problems or cerebral palsy for example can find that riding a horse mimics the movements you make when walking, all the movement is going through the pelvis and it can help strengthen muscles which otherwise aren’t being used.”
As a charity Kesteven Rideability has to raise £12,000 each year just to keep going. It can apply for grants for one-off larger items but otherwise Karen and her volunteers have to raise the remainder to keep the ponies housed, fed, cover any vet’s bills and other administration charges.
As well as relying on donations and support from groups like the Lions and Rotary clubs and businesses and individuals taking on charity challenges, Kesteven Rideability also runs a Pony Angels scheme, where people can sponsor the ponies to cover costs like accommodation, shoeing and vet’s bills.
The centre is always keen to welcome new volunteers too, with plenty of roles working with clients, the ponies and behind the scenes.
“We are run entirely by volunteers, and we’re always looking for new helpers for a wide range of operational and managerial tasks,” adds Karen.
“We provide a happy atmosphere where riders progress at their own pace, enjoy interacting with volunteers and benefit from the therapeutic qualities of horse riding. We support riders who set themselves a competitive challenge at local, regional or national level and empower them to meet their chosen goals. This summer we started our Silver Hour – enabling older members of the community to benefit from interaction with horses which helps reduce anxiety and stress in a beautiful rural setting.
“It’s an ideal opportunity for older people to rekindle their love of equines or to experience a connection with a horse for the first time.”
As for the future Karen and her team are looking forward to celebrating their charity’s 30th anniversary later this year with a special fundraising ceilidh and the continuation of their wonderful work helping others.
“I never dreamt we’d be going this long,” says Karen, “it’s been absolutely wonderful. Looking back there have been so many highlights that it’s impossible to single any out – but seeing people achieve their aims is always the best feeling.
“I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has helped and supported us over the years. As for the future we just want to keep going. Every year is a new adventure.”
For more information about Kesteven Rideability visit the website www.kestevenrda.co.uk or call 07732418848.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMPETE
For Susan Ashton, attending Kesteven Rideability has been truly life-changing – not only has she fulfilled her ambition of learning to ride, she’s also become one of the charity’s trustees.
After giving up her job as a chartered librarian at a London law firm, Susan, an amputee who has spina bifida and scoliosis, decided she would like to learn to ride a horse and signed herself up for a session with Kesteven Rideability at The Paddocks. That was three years ago.
Since starting her weekly lesson on a simulator, Susan has been teamed up with Dales pony Rio and has gone on to compete in dressage, winning her first two events.
“There was never the opportunity to do anything like this before – these charities didn’t exist when I was younger and up until then I’d always been at work,” says Susan.
“I went along to The Paddocks not knowing what to expect but it was absolutely fantastic – Karen’s an amazing teacher and has a great attitude. There’s no ‘you can’t do this’, it’s all about ‘how can we make it happen’.
“It sounds a cliché, but when I’m riding I don’t feel disabled and the longer I do it, the better it gets. With Karen and her team, we just work around any difficulties. It’s a wonderful charity.”