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Celebration Week marks 50 years of enriching lives through horses

Wednesday 25th September 2019

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) groups around the UK are celebrating the charity’s 50th anniversary with events and celebrations throughout the first week of October. The date coincides with the official formation of RDA the same week in 1969.

Throughout 2019, RDA has been using the anniversary to raise awareness of its work. Highlights have already included a Parliamentary reception and a dedicated episode on BBC1s Countryfile. The launch of Clare Balding’s new children’s book, The Racehorse who Learned to Dance, which features a character who goes to RDA, has further boosted support for the charity.

Celebration Week, which runs from 30 September to 6 October brings a focus for RDA groups to come together and join the festivities. A special gold rosette has been produced to help groups celebrate in their own ways, with over 3000 sent out so far since the beginning of the year.

50th Anniversary Rosette

Events taking place include a gold themed musical pageant at Green Cottage RDA in Dorset; a blessing of the horse at Forde Abbey, Somerset; ‘carriage driving through the ages’ at Brook Cottage in Hertfordshire and a Pony Angel party at Kesteven, Derbyshire. Many groups are marking the occasion with open days, teas and picnics, and no RDA celebration would be complete without cake!

“We want all our groups to be able to celebrate in their own way,” explains RDA UK Communications Manager, Caroline Ward. “Our groups have been free to celebrate throughout the year, but celebration week is a way of bringing everyone together in a shared recognition of this important milestone, as we acknowledge just how far we have come in the last 50 years.”

RDA UK will also be holding its annual gala awards that week. This year the evening welcomes regulars Clare Balding and Alastair Stewart, as well as newcomers motor racing legend Damon Hill; W Series’ British racing driver Alice Powell and jockey Bryony Frost.

How it all began

Celebration Week, which runs from 30 September to 6 October brings a focus for RDA Groups to come together and join the festivities.

After the Second World War, people started noticing the therapeutic benefit of riding, particularly for people with Muscular dystrophy and polio.

The idea took hold, especially when the inspirational Danish rider, Lis Hartel caused a sensation by winning Silver medals for dressage in both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, despite having no muscle function in her lower legs. Lis’s success inspired a fledgling movement which spread to the UK. Early pioneers included the Winford Orthopaedic Hospital near Bristol, the Pony Riding for the Disabled Trust in Chigwell, Essex, and the British Polio Fellowship.

The benefits of riding for children and adults with disabilities were increasingly being realised during the 1960s. In 1963 those involved started getting together for the exchange of ideas and knowledge and in 1964 a loose organisation was formed called the ‘Advisory Council on Riding for the Disabled’ (ACRD).

By 1966 there were already 23 known Disabled riding groups around the UK and the Disabled riding ‘movement’ was growing. In 1969, at the ACRD AGM, a revised constitution was presented to the Committee to create what would be known as Riding for the Disabled Association or RDA.

Our first President was Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk, and Her Royal Highness, The Princess Anne was our Patron. The Princess became our President in 1976, a position she still holds today.

Early pioneers:

Lis Hartel – Danish Olympian

Elsebet Bodtker – Rider and Physiotherapist. Inspired by Hartel to provide pony rides to young patients

Stella Saywell – Brought Bodtker’s ideas to her work as a Physiotherapist at Winford Orthopaedic Hospital near Bristol

Mrs Jacques – brought Bodtker’s ideas to the Pony Riding for the Disabled Trust in Chigwell, Essex

Norah Strang – member of British Polio Fellowship who, in 1959, thought some of the children Disabled by polio might benefit from riding (by 1977 her Tyne & Wear RDA Group had 500 riders each week).

Jane Wykeham-Musgrave – One of Great Britain’s top International riders during the 1960s, Field officer for ACRD and on the first committee of RDA.

Sheila Shaw – Inspired to bring the benefits of riding to those that needed it, Sheila pioneered riding for Disabled people at Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon, West Stowell House, Burton Hill House School and the Ponds Home.

1969 – RDA formed

1975 – Carriage Driving becomes an RDA activity. The first Blue Peter Appeal buys ‘Rags’ the pony.

1976 – HRH the Princess Royal becomes RDA President, a position she still holds today

1981 – The first RDA National RDA Dressage Championships

1988 – introduction of assessment and exams for RDA coaches

1989 – RDA’s second Blue Peter Appeal buys ‘Jet’

1994 – The RDA National Championships held at Hartpury College for the first time. The Championships have now grown to become the biggest event in the world for Disabled riders. ‘Challenge Anneka’ builds indoor riding arena at Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre

1995 – RDA celebrates Jubilee anniversary. Spirit of RDA is published

1996 – Para Dressage is included in the Paralympics for the first time, with team members Anne Dunham (who won gold in four consecutive Games), Liz Stone, Di Tubbs and Pat Straughan

1999 – RDA becomes a federation of member groups

2002 – RDA drivers take part in the first World Driving Championships

2005 – RDA becomes a member of the British Equestrian Federation, leading on all matters relating to equestrianism and disability.

2006 – RDA is official charity of Badminton Horse Trials and uses the event to raise more money than any charity before or since.

2010 – Showjumping is introduced as a new activity

2012 – At the Paralympic Games, held in London, all 5 of the Team GB Para riders started out with RDA

2013 – The RDA Tracker is launched to track and record the impact of RDA activities. ‘RDA Accessibility Mark’ is introduced to support commercial riding centres. Endurance becomes a new activity. Carriage driving is included at the National Championships for the first time. Head of Sport England, Jennie Price, acknowledges RDA as ‘an example of excellence in disability sport’

2014 – RDA features on a collection of Royal Mail stamps called ‘Working Horses’.

2017 – RDA buys ‘Lowlands Farm’ to develop a National Training Centre, to train and inspire volunteers and coaches from around the UK

2018 – New coaching pathway launched

2019 – 50th anniversary! Launch of National Training Centre

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