“It’s more accurate to describe what we do as providing therapeutic riding opportunities,” says Carol Lamb of West Lothian Riding for the Disabled.
“Our participants get huge emotional benefits from the riding sessions here, they come from a wide range of abilities and backgrounds, and some come regularly for many years.”
I’m meeting with two dedicated volunteers from Linlithgow, Carol and Sarah, on a drizzly morning last month at the West Lothian Riding for the Disabled premises near Linlithgow. They were out taking their turn at looking after the ponies and getting the premises ready for the season starting up in April after the winter break. Apparently unfazed by the weather, their enthusiasm for what the organisation does was obvious.
Set in a lovely environment on ten acres of the Hopetoun Estate, at Whitequarries, Abercorn, it is approached along a drive through a wooded area. Once you turn in through the entrance immediately after the turn off at the A9 Partnership, you start to feel relaxed in that way that a beautiful natural environment does for you.
West Lothian Riding for the Disabled has been providing therapeutic riding lessons in West Lothian for over 40 years. Participants range in age from 3 to 50 years; some are referred by healthcare professionals, some are self-referred – anyone can apply. The simple pleasure of working with horses is the cornerstone of all activities, and riding improves muscle strength, balance and motor skills, not to mention the benefits of freedom of movement, gaining confidence, building relationships, receiving life-enhancing physiotherapy, achieving individual goals and generally enjoying the outdoors.
“We couldn’t function without our volunteers,” says Carol. “We need 10 – 12 volunteers at each session for us to be able to provide the lessons.” There are eleven sessions per week at various times, delivered by one paid instructor, two volunteer instructors and a team of volunteer assistants who help participants during the lesson, look after the ponies, carry out field maintenance and much more. A lesson consists of the participants being helped onto the ponies (if necessary), being led on walks or trotting around the premises. With an arena, a tree-lined walk and a large field, there is plenty of scope. Games such as egg and spoon on horseback and team games are part of the programme. They set targets trough the year for participants and have award ceremonies, and watching the progress of participants is hugely rewarding and a large part of what keeps the volunteers coming back.
I asked Sarah why she became involved in the group. “It was the combination of the opportunity to work with horses and to work with children that attracted me. I started helping out with lessons three years ago, and all the volunteers were so friendly and welcoming. The smiles and laughter of the participants are what make it so worthwhile for me.”
Carol has been volunteering with West Lothian RDA for six years, and is now a trustee and treasurer. “I also was attracted by the horses initially, as I had had horses in my childhood. I saw that they were having a Volunteers Open Day here and came along to see what was involved - and I’m still here six years later! You become very close to the families of the participants, as you are seeing them regularly at riding sessions, sharing their progress and joy. The day one of the participants, who never spoke, said ‘Ride On’ to his pony, was a big day.”
With currently eight ponies, 69 participants and 53 volunteers, the group delivered 300 sessions last year during their season from April to October. West Lothian RDA is one of a few in the Central belt – there is one in Balerno, then the next closest are in the east of Edinburgh, or, to the west near Falkirk.
Could you volunteer?
There is a wide range of things to get involved with at West Lothian RDA, and all training and support is provided. The volunteer “family” is hugely supportive of each other. You don’t need any previous experience or skills; all you need is enthusiasm and the ability to commit to a regular time. You can put in as much or as little time as you can manage, and all help is greatly appreciated.
For more information on West Lothian Riding for the Disabled, or to get in touch about volunteering, sponsoring, or participating as a rider, please visit their website at www.westlothianrda.org or facebook page West Lothian RDA.
West Lothian RDA is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC028635
Published in Konect April 2019
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer