By Lawrence Machado
The benefits of working with animals are immense for people with disabilities and the Riding for Disabled NSW Tall Timbers Centre at Box Hill confirms this.
Maureen Richardson is grateful for the positive impact of RDA’s programs on her granddaughter Violet, 10.
“When Violet first went to the centre, she was excited but very frightened near the horses,” Richardson said. “But under the guidance of the head coach, Violet learned a lot about these animals. Now she rides once a week and has gone from being a frightened girl around horses, to gaining a lot in self-esteem. The RDA program is so beneficial, practical and provides real life experience, thanks to the wonderful volunteers. Violet loves it so much that told me that ‘I am going to work at Tall Timbers one day.’”
Over the past 10 years, more than 1500 participants enjoyed the centre’s programs, including 104 for the second half of last year.
Respected staff coach Nicole King has been at RDA for many years along with administrator Kerry Souter.
“Although COVID-19 shut us down for some time during 2020, we were still able to get back to a reduced program in the second half of the year,” says Nicole.
“In addition to Groundwork programs for life skills to be learnt, we introduced allied health services, including occupational therapy and speech pathology, and soon counselling. Fundraising has been difficult over the last few years and definitely with Covid-19 now impacting, it is very difficult to plan and run fundraising events into the future. We are not government funded and our participation fees cover approximately 20 percent of our core program costs, including horses, staff and property maintenance.
“We are looking at other avenues such as corporate partnerships and our allied health services to support the ongoing operations; we do so to try and keep the costs to our service users affordable.”
Volunteers, like Kirsty Hardman, play a huge role at the centre, because there are 170 shifts to be filled each week if it’s at full capacity.
Kirsty, a speech pathologist, coordinates a group of young riders once a week. “I have been a volunteer at RDA for 16 and half years, and I love it, because it brings a sense of achievement,” she said. “We feel excited when they gain a new skill and their smiles make it so worthwhile. You don’t need to be a rider to volunteer at the RDA, as there is something for everyone.”
Nicole says volunteer roles include working in their programs, helping in the stables, gardening, property maintenance and cleaning in addition to committee, fundraising or coaching roles. “COVID-19 has certainly impacted our volunteering levels and we are seeking to increase the consistency of volunteers across all areas,” she said.
There is a wish list of things needed in their newsletter: www.talltimbers.rdansw.org.au/wishlistitems/. Details: 9679 1246