Volunteer stories


A Farewell Letter from Gundi Shaw

More than 20 years ago I was asked to accompany a group of very special pupils to the RDA centre at Wilton.  My only close encounter with horses thus far had been a ride on a real pony merry-go-round in Vienna, my mum's idea of a treat for passing my 11 plus, my idea of a nightmare. So I was quite wary, only to be met by the most generous, smiling, wonderful group of people.  Within minutes I lost all my trepidation and have never looked back since. 


Over the years I have watched many of my pupils go through the same process arriving quite timid and frightened and in time, some faster than others, growing in self esteem, confidence, riding skills and physical development into competent and some even independent riders. 

I have watched children learn to wait their turn at riding, when they find waiting very difficult and pat their pony when they shy away from human contact.  I will never forget that "walk-on" was Steven's first ever 2 word combination and how proud Alex was the first time he sat on the pony after a very patient Pat had spent lots of time with him to take away his fear. 


From learning a new skill to increased self confidence, from interaction with different people and learning new routines to all the sensory experiences involved in riding, there is a long list of benefits for the children. 


All that remains for me to say is a huge thank you to Pat and the wonderful team of helpers, whose dedication and hard work make all this possible.  And more than that, they bring fun and enjoyment to the children. 


I shall miss you all very much, Best wishes and God Bless. 


Gundi Shaw


(Autism Centre at Woodford Valley School - leaving soon to "ride east" to her old/new life in Austria) 

P.S. Mountain goats are a poor substitute for the Wilton ponies!


Cate Saunsbury  -  A New Kid on the Block


When I first came to Salisbury about 13 years ago one of the first places I read about with interest was the fantastic work that Riding for the Disabled was doing for both adults and children.  What particularly drew me to this was the thought that it gave disabled people freedom.  They could move about, form a bond with a horse and be able to communicate their wishes to the horse where possible.  It was consequently one of the charities I chose to support.  


Little did I realise that I would end up helping out with them when I retired recently.  When I first went along to offer help it was with some trepidation as I had not been involved with horses since I was about 8 years old.  Everybody seemed so knowledgeable on horses and very skilful in dealing with the children.  There was no need to worry as everybody was very welcoming and soon started passing on their knowledge and experience.  


The first things I was asked to do proved to be within my skills range; like clearing up the horse poo and wetting the hay.  At least I could contribute something!  As time went on I learnt how to tack a horse, although it took one or two goes before I was able to get the toe caps on the right way!  I have also mastered some of the horsy terms now.  I now know that a horse wears a rug and not a coat!  The rewarding part is the contact with the children from various schools and I would walk alongside the horse encouraging the children to interact with the horse.  This was particularly joyful for me as to see these children respond, even if in a very small way, was thrilling. 


The thing that struck me after working at the centre for a few Thursdays was that they were such a dedicated team.  Looking after horses and ponies requires attention 7days a week, including Bank Holidays and Christmas Day and even if it is freezing cold or pouring with rain!  It also requires a lot of money to run an establishment like this and it is all raised by hard working and committed fund raisers.  


It has been a great joy for me to turn up on a Thursday and help my fellow team members at the R.D.A.  They are a happy and friendly group, who are totally dedicated and professional but at the same time they make it fun.  It is a great way to relax, keep fit and be a small part of a wonderful idea!


Joe Hand - A Warm Welcome

I started at Wilton RDA in June 2012 on a two week work experience placement in preparation for applying for Veterinary Medicine. Needless to say, I enjoyed the time I spent there so much I came back as a regular volunteer when the new school year started, and I can honestly say that going to the RDA is the best part of my week. I now volunteer every Thursday, and I'm partnered with a boy called James, who I've really bonded with in the time I've been working with him. 


I'm currently on a gap year, and will be starting university in September, but I'll definitely be back to help out outside of term time. I've met some brilliant people in my time here, not only among the other volunteers, but also in the carers and parents of the riders. My main duties are sidewalking with James and others, and looking after the horses, which includes grooming, tacking up and feeding.


I would really recommend volunteering at the RDA, even if it's only for a day and you have no experience with horses like I did. You'll be surprised at the welcome you'll get and how quickly you'll decide you want to stay.


Joe Hand


Carol's story

My name is Carol Lawrence. 


I have always loved horses and ponies as long as I can remember since a small child, with no encouragement from anyone. On family holidays instead of playing on the beach or in the sea, I would be helping with the pony rides walking up and down the beach for hours.  I learnt to ride at the age of eleven at Grovely riding school and would help out all day on Saturday's whenever possible. 


Many years on in the year 2000, married with two daughters, I took on too many hours of work whilst trying to be the perfect Mum. After a visit to the doctor with some very unpleasant symptoms, I was told that I was suffering from stress and to take one day off a week, for some 'me' time. I was advised to find something to do that I enjoyed and I mentioned that I enjoyed working with horses. Later that day I visited my friend and told her about my advice, to which she told me that she had seen a poster in town, advertising for help working with horses. I felt that I had been given a path to follow and directly after went to town in search of the poster. I found it and saw that it was RDA Wilton asking for volunteers. That evening I rang the number given, went to RDA Wilton the following Wednesday to be shown around. I was introduced to the instructors and the Exeter House children preparing to ride. I had never had any experience with special needs before, so this was all new to me. I started volunteering the very next Wednesday during that May and very quickly, got to know my fellow volunteers, who were an incredibly lovely, friendly bunch of people. 


As time went on I gradually became familiar with all the horses, ponies and riders of all ages and disabilities. The RDA opened my eyes to a whole new world and found it to be the most rewarding experience that I have ever encountered. That following December, whilst involved in two concerts and performing at Salisbury City Hall, I arranged for the RDA to hold a raffle on both nights. I managed to rush round many businesses and shops collecting 80 raffle prizes, the largest being a TV, thanks to my husband's employers. Focusing on this event, did not feel at all stressful, but enjoyable. During those two nights, we managed to raise £1000 for the RDA. I couldn't have been happier! 


At this point I could feel that I was on the road to recovery, gradually. During the years, I have watched children grow, progressing from small ponies, to larger horses. I have also witnessed many of our riders improve physically and mentally from their time riding with us.  Also during my time, I spent five years helping with the collection boxes and for the past two years, have been the Wednesday volunteer co-ordinator. My husband has always been very supportive of this deserving charity, has raised money and helped at many of our fund raising events. 


Through doing this, we have both met many other lovely volunteers that work on other days. Thirteen years on, my friend who first alerted me to the RDA poster, has since been diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia. She is only in her sixties, it doesn't seem fair. She herself has always loved horses and has ridden in the past. She started riding with us at the beginning of this year and I went to side walk her for her first ride. Her family looking on, felt very emotional whilst watching her ride around the indoor school, wearing the hugest smile you could ever imagine, as she reminisced to me about a Shetland pony that she had once ridden in childhood. I will always remember that day as the day that I was able to give back, to my friend and to thank her for helping me find the RDA. This is the place where I feel was always meant to be, the place that I refer to as my second home. It runs on the spirit of love, joy and enthusiasm, the comradeship and team spirit of all the volunteers within it, is second to none.

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