Last week (Wednesday 28 September) saw London’s grand Drapers’ Hall fill with RDA supporters, all dressed to the nines, for the 2016 RDA Gala Awards.
The evening began with a moving speech from the RDA’s Chief Executive, Ed Bracher, before the awards ceremony to celebrate outstanding achievements of RDA participants, volunteers and supporters got underway.
Fresh from Rio, Clare Balding was there to present the awards for a fourth year in a row and, throughout the evening, flawlessly juggled signings of her book - The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop (with all proceeds of the sales going to the RDA), awards presentations, an auction and more.
Joining Claire on stage later in the evening, some of our finest Paralympic stars; Sophie Christiansen, Anne Dunham and Natasha Baker took part in a special Q&A.
To discover who won what, for images, videos and information about the RDA read on.
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Winner: Katherine Swan
The recipient of this award, Katherine Swan, was studying for her A Levels in the spring of 2011 when she suffered serious brain injuries in a car accident.
“When Katherine started at the RDA she could ride for no more than 10 minutes. She rode with the aid of side walkers and in time her side walkers moved away. Now Katherine can ride unaided and is a keen dressage rider,” said Clare.
In her nomination people wrote: ‘Katherine showed incredible progress from a wheelchair to a scooter and now walks on the arm of her mother.”
As she walked toward the stage to collect her award the audience was in awe of this brave and determined young woman. Clare Balding asked her how she’d describe her time with the RDA, to which she replied: “I’d say it’s been pretty amazing.”
Katherine also took the opportunity to thank Bill, the horse she rides at the RDA, and her instructor. “My instructor has been there for me all the way and she’s amazing, thank you Jenna,” she said.
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Winner: Mickey from The Brae RDA
While he was unable to collect his award (much to Clare’s dismay!) nine-year-old Mickey was honoured at the awards as the RDA Horse of the Year - he also made an appearance as a cardboard cut out (see right).
Loved by all the riders, vaulters, carriage drivers, staff, visitors and horses he meets, Mickey was described in his nominations as a ‘horse in a million’.
He recently completed his training to become a vaulting horse and now allows a team of vaulters to work in a group, encouraging vital communication skills – all, it was said, would not have been possible without his bravery, enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
Watch the moment Mickey was revealed as RDA Horse of The Year here.
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Winner: Matt Dalley from Scropton RDA
Matt Dalley volunteers for Scropton RDA where, inspired by others in his group, he’s always keen to help in whatever way he can.
Due to the nature of his disabilities some physical activities are more challenging but Matt embodies the true spirit of the RDA by proving that it’s all about what you can do in life, not what you can’t do.
On accepting his award, Matt, who has a congenital brain condition, is autistic, profoundly deaf and suffers from ADHA gave a moving speech about his time with the RDA with the help of his signer.
“I just love it, “ he said. “I really enjoy being part of the group, part of a team and being able to give something back myself. There’s always a role for you and there’s always something you can do to help. I also believe it’s good for other young people in the RDA to see people like me volunteer in the RDA and to be really positive.
“I just really want to thank everyone in the RDA. I started riding when I was young, now I volunteer and all that I’ve done through the RDA has given me the confidence to do what I do and to be who I am.”
Before leaving the stage Matt, who has become known in the RDA for his work on social media for the charity, said his aim for the evening was to get the “best selfie ever”. Everyone joined in and he did indeed get his selfie – this young man is a character, an inspiration and definitely someone to follow on Twitter -@TheParaRiderMD and Facebook.
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Winner: Charlotte Court from Kitty Baron RDA
The untimely death of Chris Baron, who was well known for his work with disabled children and adults through the Kitty Baron RDA Group, was a huge blow to everyone who knew him, including the winner of this award.
So highly regarded, Charlotte received a record number of nominations, all of which were hugely influenced by Charlotte’s hard work and dedication to ensure the survival group following the sad death of her good friend and colleague Chris.
Charlotte grew up a stone’s throw from Chris and worked for him for 15 years. Her work to keep the Kitty Baron group going was in his honour.
“He was an inspiration,” she said “and the group is my family. We’re only a little group but we really try our very hardest so this award means so much because it shows that everyone else thinks we do too. This award isn’t just for me, it’s for the whole group.”
Of her, people said: “Charlotte led the revival of the group and it’s down to her that our group has risen from the ashes.”
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Winner: Cobbes Meadow RDA for Sam’s Super Steps
Sam Smedley, a volunteer for the Cobbes Meadow RDA Group in Kent, was awarded for the innovate set of steps he designed and made to help his wife.
Ros Smedley, has a prosthetic leg and was finding it increasingly difficulty to use the mounting block to get into the carriages. Sam set about inventing a solution – wheeled steps with handrails and with a background in engineering his small idea delivered big results. Now ‘Sam’s Super Steps’, as they’ve been nicknamed, are in regular use by the whole RDA group.
No small feat the steps took Sam three months to design and, as he explained on the night, the process was “hit and miss a lot of the time.”
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Winner: Cowan Architects
The RDA Buisness Partnership of the year award went to Cowan Architects who sponsor RDA South East regional events.
Cowan Architect’s vision is to improve the quality of life across disabilities, including sponsoring the group’s regional events: Regional Challenge Day, Hickstead Dressage and Indoor Carriage Driving.
The practice offering innovative design solutions, Cowan Architects prides itself on delivering what company chairman David Cowan described as “inclusive design.”
“Our partnership with the RDA gives us a chance to give something back to the people we’ve been working with,” he said.
All images: Alex Lloyd, Lemon Imaging Ltd
Discover more about the RDA
At the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), horses and ponies provide therapy, achievement and enjoyment to people with disabilities all over the UK.
Its network of 500 volunteer groups organise activities such as riding, carriage driving, vaulting, show jumping and Hippotherapy to up to 28,000 people each year.
The RDA has been carrying out our life-changing activities for more than 40 years, and takes great pride in the exceptional standard of its instructors and volunteers. It offers activities for all age groups and, wherever possible, to people with any disability – and you’re just as likely to find an RDA Group in an urban setting as a rural one.
The RDA relies on voluntary help, donations and legacies to deliver our services. TO find out more and to see how you could help visit www.rda.org.uk