RDA and Accessibility Mark Work Hand in Hand


At Aberdeen Riding Club the ethos is to make horse riding accessible to all by removing the barriers to participation wherever possible.

The centre is also a great example of how Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and Accessibility Mark work hand in hand to provide disabled riders with the very best experience.

Aberdeen Riding Club is an Accessibility Mark accredited centre but is also home to an RDA Hippotherapy Group. Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a commercial riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment.

Club Manager, Sally McCarthy explains how the two groups combine to work well for participants: “Becoming an Accessibility Mark centre was a great opportunity for us to further promote participation and ensure we are able to offer access to equestrian sport to all.

“We are incredibly lucky to be able to support a local RDA Hippotherapy Group and the link provides a route of progression for riders. They can start in Hippotherapy under the expert guidance of the group physiotherapist and coach then move on to our Accessibility Mark sessions.

“In our Accessibility Mark sessions riders have access to experienced British Horse Society qualified coaches who can further develop their riding skills but still work closely with our physiotherapist, Valerie Cooper, to ensure the training is beneficial.

Each individual rider has a full physiotherapy assessment to find out whether they are most suited to Hippotherapy or Accessibility Mark sessions. A plan is then devised by Valerie in conjunction with carers, setting long term and short term goals, with regular reviews to see how they are progressing and to assess when to move on from Hippotherapy to Accessibility Mark.

Two young riders that have hugely benefited from the system at Aberdeen Riding Club are Karl Addison and Elijah Shearer. Both have Down Syndrome and initially began with the Hippotherapy sessions as a way to build muscle strength.

Karl’s Story

Karl first started Hippotherapy at two-years-old and was wary of loud noises, bright lights and other sensory experiences, meaning sessions had to be carried out in the dark and Valerie and her team would sing to him to settle his anxiety.

In the early days Karl would need therapy without wearing a riding hat because of his postural strength, which can only be done with parental consent and by someone who is fully insured by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. 

Over time he became more confident and his balance and tolerance of sensory experience grew enough to progress to more activities on the horse such as reaching games and holding the reins, he also became comfortable wearing a riding hat.

The team incorporated speech and Makaton, which is a language programme that uses signs together with speech and symbols into sessions.

Karl eventually progressed to be able to constantly hold the reins and use them and his body to steer the horse and even ride at rising trot thanks to his improved balance. Through the Makaton signs and speech, Karl was also able to communicate his needs whilst riding.

At this point Valerie was happy to transfer Karl to recreational Accessibility Mark riding sessions with Sally as Valerie felt he would benefit from a different style of riding. 

Now eight-years-old, Karl’s posture has changed due to improved core muscle strength and balance, he is far more independent and follows instruction.

Karl’s Mum, Pianna said: “Karl loves riding his favourite pony Gizmo, especially trotting and now wants to go faster and faster.

“His stamina is so much better, he runs faster and sits better and I also think his attention span has improved.

 Elijah’s Story

Elijah came to Aberdeen Riding Club having previously ridden at an RDA Group that had to stop providing lessons. His Mum, Kerry, was concerned that not having access to horse riding would set back the progress that he had already made.

Following an assessment Valerie decided that Elijah’s balance and co-ordination would benefit from Hippotherapy and he also had some sensory issues regarding holding the reins.

To begin with Valerie started Elijah riding on a sheepskin pad instead of a saddle and did lots of balancing exercises, building in sensory work and body rotation to ultimately help with steering. 

With progress, Elijah was able to move back into a saddle with stirrups to begin working on basic riding skills as well as incorporating speech and signing into the sessions.

In just under a year Elijah not only improved in his balance and co-ordination but he also became much more confident in communicating. He could steer much more effectively and focused better on the tasks and during activities. As soon as Elijah mastered rising trot, Valerie knew it was time to move on to work with Sally and the Accessibility Mark team.

Kerry has seen how much 11-year-old Elijah has benefited from the riding sessions: “Elijah loves his sessions riding Freddie; he knows how to ask him to turn, stop and go. His improved muscle tone, core strength and balance has helped massively with his gross motor skills which in turn has helped with his sitting posture and position for writing at school.

“On warmer days, Elijah loves going out for a hack and is often heard singing and he looks forward to giving Freddie a treat after each session.  I hope that he can continue to progress and learn to ride different shapes.”

Coach Sally McCarthy said: “Karl and Elijah are brilliant to coach; they are so enthusiastic and clearly get benefit and fun from riding. Their riding has progressed so well since they started with the Hippotherapy group and we look forward to seeing how much they progress in the future.”

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    

About Accessibility Mark

In partnership with the British Equestrian Federation, the RDA launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.   

This project has been kindly funded by Sport England through the British Equestrian.

Aberdeen Riding Club
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