For six-year-old Katie O’Callaghan, riding her ‘unicorns’ Flicka and Blue at Tauranga Riding for the Disabled is the highlight of her week.
Whether trotting, playing games on the ponies, or riding up big hills, Katie is rarely seen without a smile on her face.
Katie’s mother Rochelle says the past two years riding at RDA and spending time with the horses and instructors has helped Katie with many aspects of her development.
“Katie has Global Developmental Delay, and her time riding at RDA has helped with her speech and language, strength, social interactions, and confidence. It has been key in improving her balance and using both sides of her body more equally.
“Coach Angela and the volunteers work very hard to build relationships and trust so they can encourage riders to really stretch themselves and then celebrate every achievement they work so hard for. We feel very privileged to be part of Tauranga Riding for the Disabled.”
Katie’s coach Angela O’Donnell says their team have loved watching the progress she has made in her riding over the last couple of years.
“Not only has she benefited from the therapeutic and educational side of the programme, but she has become a competent little rider. She has a lovely riding position and can ride her horse through an obstacle course independently without having a sidewalker or Leader. She has great rhythm and is now rising to the horse’s trot. We love seeing Katie’s smile when she has achieved these goals.”
Tauranga Riding for the Disabled provides equine-based therapy programmes to those at risk, with disabilities, or with social challenges.
Whether helping those with Cerebral Palsy experience freedom outside of their wheelchair to improve their balance and muscle tone, or helping at-risk youth develop confidence and compassion, the charity’s programmes are making a positive difference in the lives of 300 riders a year.
Tauranga RDA Manager Elisha Olds says equestrian therapy works so well as it provides a huge range of benefits to so many different riders.
“You can’t beat the feel-good factor of riding; it not only builds confidence and self-esteem, but also has some incredible physical benefits. The horse mimics the movement of a person’s walk, so it gets all the same muscles moving, which is so important for our riders.
“We are so fortunate to have an amazing physiotherapist on our team, along with 120 dedicated volunteers who help make these outcomes possible with our horses.”
Tauranga Riding for the Disabled has seen a steady growth in rider numbers over the years and has an ever-growing waiting list. To help cater for more riders and volunteers, the charity sought TECT funding to extend their building and the all-weather riding space.
The extensions included on-site accommodation for international student volunteers, a canopy cover for the outdoor arena, a new administration and reception building, and classrooms.
The build was completed last year thanks to TECT funding of $200,000 and support from other funders and generous donations.
This year, TECT funding of $140,000 was approved over two years, providing the charity much-needed assurance they can operate in the months ahead.
Elisha says the over $1 million in funding TECT has provided over the years has been vital to ensuring they can continue their life-changing work.
“TECT has been one of our main supporters for many years. Just knowing that support is there is such great security, especially with the recently approved multi-year funding. Not having the admin time tied up doing that year-to-year means we can focus on delivering our programmes.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without TECT’s support. Their contribution to our building extension and outdoor canopy has allowed us to double our capacity, and their funding since 1998 has allowed us to continue growing and transforming lives.”
TECT Trustee Tina Jennen says the charity is a vital asset in our community.
“Everybody knows the Tauranga RDA, but we don’t all get to see the real impact they are having in people’s lives. For their team and volunteers, seeing their riders’ faces light up when they get on a horse, or achieve their therapeutic or sporting goal, must be wonderful to witness.
“We are so proud to support their work and be a part of that. Whether through therapy riding or even visiting retirement and nursing homes with their mini ponies, it’s having an incredible impact in people’s lives.”