Horse riding has many benefits for disabled people and for those with conditions that effect communication, physical strength and balance.
Part of the foundations for the success of Accessibility Mark is down to the horses and ponies that are required to quickly adapt between riding lessons for clients in a commercial riding school and the disabled riders during an Accessibility Mark session.
Due to certain conditions riders can at times struggle to grip the reins properly or use the reins to balance, this is where centres can take advantage of specialist or modified equipment to ensure the safety of both horse and rider.
Wherever possible it is recommended that regular equipment should be used, but there are a number of useful pieces of equipment for those who need them.
During the initial training to become an Accessibility Mark centre, the ASO (Accessibility Support Officer) will introduce staff to a number of simple aids, as well as training on how to use each piece effectively to the benefit of the horse, rider and coach.
Correct use of the reins is one of the most important steps in learning to ride in order to communicate with the horse. Most novice riders will use their hands to balance when they first start learning, which can be uncomfortable for the horse; this is even more problematic for riders with poor core strength.
There are a wide range of specially adapted reins that can help riders to be more effective with rein control where function, grip, strength and hand and arm position may be compromised.
Rainbow reins are one of the most popular choices widely used for riders who lack concentration and are good for teaching the correct contact. The different colours help to achieve even rein length and can improve awareness when trying to prevent the reins from slipping through the hands; they are also easy to pick up when dropped by selecting the same coloured section.
Rainbow reins can be used in conjunction with coloured mounted games equipment such as bean bags, poles and balls. For riders with learning disabilities, the coloured equipment is a simple tool in teaching colours and to follow patterns.
One centre using specialist equipment to great effect is Wrea Green Equitation Centre, based in Preston, who have even make extra modifications to meet their rider’s needs.
Owner Chris Pollitt explains how this modification is helping riders and ensuring the welfare of the horses and ponies: “We ask our saddler to remove the billet fastenings from the rainbow reins and replace them with a clip that can easily be attached and removed from the bit. When we are teaching a rider to steer we would attach the reins to the headcollar to remove pressure from the pony’s mouth, with a leader in control of the pony and in some cases two assistants either side.”
Other reins that can be used are ladder reins, looped reins and bar reins. Ladder reins are ideal for riders with poor strength in their hands or riders that need to control the horse with the wrist or elbow joint if hand grasp is non-functional.
Looped reins have several loops sewn to the inside of plain leather reins, that are large enough for the whole hand to slip in and out easily, meaning that reining can be done the with wrist, back of the hand or elbow. Bar reins provides a means for one handed riders to have improved contact.
Other pieces of equipment to help a disabled rider achieve their riding goals include bunny ears and a balance handle which both attach to the D ring on the saddle. Holding the Bunny ears or balance strap instead of the reins puts the rider in a better position, improving balance and security in the saddle.
Kay Padfield, owner of Church Farm Equestrian, near Bristol said: “We have riders that can’t grip the reins but who can grip the bunny ears, also some of our autistic riders won’t hold the reins properly or just let go suddenly, so it is in the interest of the horse for us to have control and for the rider to hold on to the ears. The suede texture of the ears can also be more appealing for some riders to hold.”
Riding for the Disabled Association, in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s participation programme, launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme to work with commercial riding centres with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial.
There are currently 38 Accessibility Mark approved-centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk