Accessibility Mark is opening doors to allow more disabled riders to participate in horse riding on a regular basis. Here we meet Accessibility Support Officers (ASO), Fiona Dent and Sally Hall who are helping to assess and train staff at newly accredited centres and also provide on-going support.
Accessibility Support Officers
Accessibility Support Officers are the vital link between commercial riding centres and Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). Once a centre expresses an interest in becoming accredited, an ASO will visit to assess the centre’s credentials and start an on-going relationship.
Following an initial training day carried out by the ASO, they are a constant source of support for centres on everything from lesson planning, specialist equipment and difficulties arising from specific conditions, to ensure that individuals get the best possible experience.
Sally Hall has been involved with Riding for the Disabled Association for many years, acting as County Coach and Coach Developer and was a founder of RDA Endurance which has expanded to over 100 groups now doing endurance within RDA.
Together with husband, Peter, Sally has run Urchinwood Manor Riding School for over 40 years and they have built up a loyal group of clients including 35 disabled riders that attend for lessons each week.
“I feel very lucky to have been involved with Accessibility Mark from the very beginning. It has given me the chance to pass on my knowledge to other commercial riding schools and I get enormous pleasure from visiting them and helping them gain knowledge of disabilities.”
As well as the annual training day, that is mandatory for all Accessibility Mark accredited centres, Sally will be on-hand to train any new staff members or discuss difficulties surrounding mounting and dismounting, exercises to improve riders and the challenges of different disabilities.
“I think the scheme has really improved the care of disabled riders, maintaining the high standards set by RDA. Some of the smaller RDA Groups only ride once a week, so Accessibility Mark is providing more opportunities that are flexible.” added Sally.
Fiona Dent has also been involved with the scheme from the start, as a freelance coach she has been teaching disabled riders since 2002.
She was asked to come on-board as an ASO, having previously worked for two training providers within the horse industry.
“To be an ASO, it is important to have a good understanding of RDA, as well as being an experienced coach. I also see the role as being a link between centres and RDA Groups with the aim of getting them both to work together.”
Fiona believes a good Accessibility Mark centre is one that has reasonable facilities, good horses and qualified coaches that enjoy providing a good experience for disabled riders.
Centres often contact Fiona for advice on things such as specific disabilities and also specialist equipment and the different options available that can make a real difference to the progress of a rider.
“Since the London Paralympics, which was the catalyst for the scheme, public perception and expectations have changed enormously. Whereas before there was only RDA Groups providing a limited number of riding opportunities, now there is so much more to offer.
“I hope more centres join the scheme so more disabled riders have the opportunity to access riding as well as opening up the possibility of competing at the National Championships and regional competitions.”
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the 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 to riders of varying levels of disability.
There are currently 55 Accessibility Mark-approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk