As Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) celebrates its 50th anniversary, a few extraordinary volunteers also mark half a century of helping others enjoy the benefit of horse riding for both fun and therapy.

Volunteers are the life force behind the organisation’s amazing work and without the 18,000 generous individuals that give up their valuable time, the charity simply couldn’t exist.

Here we meet three volunteers that have seen RDA transform from its humble beginnings to an inclusive and diverse organisation that challenges disabled people to reach beyond what they believe possible.

Sally Campbell-Gray MBE, RDASC, FRDA, HLVP

Sally Campbell-Gray has been volunteering with RDA since 1968, just before the charity was officially formed. Originally helping out at the Chesfield Equestrian Centre and when this became part of RDA as the Stevenage and District Group she took on the role of instructor and helper.

The group catered for pupils at a school for disabled children, a school for children with learning difficulties and a school for children with challenging behaviour.

In the 40 years that Sally was a volunteer with the group she has taken on many different roles, including a stint as Chairman and Hertfordshire County Representative.

As RDA has evolved, Sally has had a keen interest in the training side of the organisation and how instructors could help their rider’s progress. As East Regional Coach she was asked to be a member of the RDA Training Committee and was a pioneer of the now widely used Instructors’ Assessments, as well as being co-author of the RDA Instructors Exam.

Sally’s proudest achievement is seeing the Countryside Challenge become an annual fixture at the RDA National Championships. Designed to mimic a ride in the countryside, with all the challenges that you might face, this has now become hugely popular with competitors and continues to go from strength to strength.

12 years ago, Sally moved to Norfolk and is now a Coach Developer for the Magpie Centre based in King’s Lynn, helping with training and reviewing their coaches and volunteers.

For at least 10 years Sally was also co-ordinator and chief judge for the National Musical Ride Competition which gives groups an aim and interest to a lot of their sessions and provided the judges with a wonderful view of what goes on in groups around the country.

Sally said: “I have loved my 50 years with RDA and all the people I have worked with, I have been rewarded by the many achievements and pleasure of so many of our riders and volunteers.

“The rewards and awards presented to me by RDA, and indeed the Queen, are much appreciated and are proudly displayed around my house. I could not have done this without the friendship and support of everyone in RDA and the tremendous support of my family who say they are as proud as I am for 50 years well spent.”

Gay Redman

Gay Redman receiving an award for volunteering from HRH The Princess Royal

Gay Redman was one of a group of young mothers that formed the North Herts Group, giving up their time every Thursday morning while their own children were at school.

As rider numbers grew, Gay ended up being the Group Chairman, instructor and fundraiser: “I found it very rewarding to see how happy it made our participants and to see their progress, which in many ways was all down to the volunteers.”

Following a move to Cambridgeshire, Gay took on the role of County Chairman, meaning she got to know all 16 groups in the area, and often helping out instructing when needed.

“It was so exciting to see children talk or even walk for the first time as a result of the therapy from their riding sessions.” added Gay.

Gay has fond memories of holding a gymkhana for groups from the whole county with over 100 children attending the event using 20 borrowed ponies, and also holiday camps where children would come and stay for four or five days, something that is trickier today in an era of strict health and safety rules.

In 1999, Gay helped form the first RDA Polo group, inspired by a few young adult riders from the Cambs College Group. With support from the Cambridge and Newmarket Polo Club, members of the new group began to learn the rules of polo, starting in walk and trot before building up to canter.

The highlight was in 2003 when the group was invited to parade on polo ponies at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor, in front of HRH, The Princess Royal.

During the years that Gay has dedicated her time, she has seen the charity go through a number of changes. In 2013 she was appointed East Regional Chairman which brought her into closer contact with RDA UK, seeing for herself how things have moved on.

Recently Gay has been involved with young adult para riders and has been inspired by their courage and determination to overcome difficulties to achieve their goals, and giving them a sense of purpose.

“None of this is possible without our fantastic volunteers and I think anyone who would like to volunteer and help in any way they can will find it extremely rewarding and enjoyable.” said Gay

Sue Robson

In 1971, Sue joined Richmond and Catterick RDA where she became Vice Chairman

Sue Robson’s involvement with RDA began by chance when she was asked by her childhood friend, Jean Burdon, if she could use her little grey pony in a new RDA Group that she was starting in September 1969.

In 1971, Sue joined Richmond and Catterick RDA where she became Vice Chairman and where she is still a group instructor and first aider today.

Like most people that volunteer with RDA, Sue’s role has expanded over the years, serving on the Regional Committee as representative for North Yorkshire from 1998 to 2014 and as a County Instructor from 2004 to 2008.

Sue’s enjoyment from volunteering has always been about working closely with the ponies and the participants. Over the years Sue has seen the life-enhancing difference that RDA has made with two notable memories that stick in her mind.

“We had a pony called Pepsi that had been ridden for weeks by a boy that didn’t speak. Every week the side-walkers would pat the pony saying ‘Pepsi’. Suddenly during one of his sessions, the young boy bent down, patted the pony and said ‘Pepsi’.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole riding school, including his mother, who had never heard him speak.

“On another occasion a boy that was unable to walk, was lifted on a pony, only to get off twenty minutes later and walk back to his wheelchair. It is moments like this that make all the hard work worthwhile.”

To keep going, RDA relies on fundraising, something which Sue has also thrown herself into, raising around £8000.

During the past 50 years RDA has progressed significantly and now offers participants the chance to compete, with many paralympianshaving started out riding with RDA and also riding holidays, something that Sue has helped to organise.

Sue stresses the importance of recognising everyone’s achievements however big or small.

“Achievement comes at all levels and we must never forget the child who may never get out of walk but is still achieving goals.

“I have suffered from dyslexia all my life and this is now classified as a disability. This has helped me to understand so many problems which in my childhood were misunderstood and ignored.” added Sue.

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