Freedom at the reins

Riding boosts confidence and fitness and is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors. And for those with learning difficulties or physical disability, riding can give an experience of freedom like no other.

James Marston

Riding boosts confidence and fitness and is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors. And for those with learning difficulties or physical disability, riding can give an experience of freedom like no other. JAMES MARSTON finds out more.

JUST a few miles outside Ipswich and you're slap bang in the country.

The corn sways in the breeze, the trees rustle, the scene is a peaceful one - and at this time of year rural Suffolk is at its best.

Set along one of the county's myriad country roads to the north of Ipswich is the Newton Hall Equitation Centre at Swilland.

Here, for nearly 40 years, the centre has welcomed those with learning difficulties and physical disabilities as part of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

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Among the volunteers is Debbie Howgego, a police constable from Kesgrave and District Safer Neighbourhood Team. She regularly supports the work of the RDA and volunteers for the charity.

She said: “The RDA is a UK-wide charity that provides horse riding for adults and children with physical disability and learning difficulties.

“I used to ride when I was younger. I like horses and being around them.

“The work that the Riding for the Disabled Association do is amazing and is such a gift to these children.

“It offers them joy and a sense of freedom that they normally do not have in life.

“They are given the opportunity to ride and interact with the horses and enhance their learning and develop new skills.”

And for Debbie, 38, there is also a personal motive to volunteer.

She said: “I have a six-year-old nephew who has Down's syndrome and it means a lot to me to become involved in a charity in both my personal life and through working at the police.

“I have always been interested in horses from an early age when I used to ride and saw an article in the local newsletter asking for volunteers.”

Debbie donates her own time to the charity and also visits them when on duty as they operate within the Kesgrave and District Safer Neighbourhood Team area.

She added: “I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give something back to the community and help the charity. It is also an important part of my community engagement and police work.”

The riding sessions take place once a week and there are five children in each session, with three charity workers from the RDA tutoring the children. The children are between 16 and 18 years old and are all from Belstead School.

As the team of volunteers take Henry and Frolic - plus their riders Thomas and Sam - into the arena volunteer instructor Olivia Peek stops for a chat.

She said: “I've been volunteering for RDA for about 20 years and I've been an instructor for ten years.

“We come here every Thursday and we teach the students and take them around the arena. It helps the youngsters use their muscles and it gets them outside, they love it.

“It is very satisfying to see students make progress, it is good fun and a very worthwhile charity.”

Newton Hall Equitation Centre provides the horses at a reduced rate, something for which the RDA volunteers are extremely grateful.

Dympna Jackson, of Tuddenham, also volunteers.

She said: “The students come here to learn to ride and also experience a different environment. Horses are very sensitive animals and I think they can empathise with the students.

“I have been volunteering for 37 years and it is great fun. I like mixing with the pupils.”

Sam Liddell, of Otley, has been volunteering for nearly three years.

She said: “I had just given up work and my daughter was into riding. I thought it would be a good thing to do in the community.

“I really enjoy it, it is great to see the students progress and gain confidence.”

If you would like to find out more information about the RDA or find out how to donate to the charity or volunteer please visit

Have you or your family benefited from the work of the RDA? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to

The association was founded in 1965.

In 1986 HRH the Princess Royal took over as president.

The first RDA National RDA Dressage Championships took place in 1981 and were expanded to include all RDA disciplines with the First RDA National Championships.

1981 also saw the launch of the association's in-house magazine, RDA News, which is circulated three times a year.

The association became a Federation of Member Groups in 1999 and RDA National became an incorporated body in 2004.

The association now has over 500 member groups which cater for more than 25,000 riders and carriage drivers.

RDA is a federation of member groups, which are dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities, through the provision of opportunities for riding and/or carriage driving.

Groups enable people to improve their health and wellbeing, delivering a real and lasting therapy that not only benefits mobility and co-ordination, but encourages confidence and self worth whilst having fun.

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