Normally it’s just the horses with the long faces at the Victor Harbor centre for the Riding for Disabled.
Now, with a harsh reality the club is struggling to survive, the children who disguise their disability with a beautiful smile while learning to ride them are becoming fewer and far between.
For almost 40 years children with an intellectual and/or physical disability have thrived on meaningful development working with specially trained horses, firstly through parents on Hindmarsh Island, and then the RDA at Scott Grounds from 1981, and since 2012 at Morgan Park.
For some years the RDA has catered for children brought to its centre by their school bus as a lesson. Once the lessons were free. They rose to $10, then $20, and with more children involved there was a need for more horses, vet bills, feed and so on. The fee is now $65 per lesson and RDA Victor Harbor runs at a loss.
With the new National Disability Insurance Scheme, if the schools now bring the children to RDA it is regarded as a school activity so the NDIS will not pay the RDA fee unless it is specified in a child’s plan. In the RDA case that’s near impossible because the program expense relates to horses. But without the horses there is no program.
Compounding the issue is that the Office for Recreation & Sport will no longer fund the 13 RDA centres state-wide after July 1 because of the new NDIS system. To top it off, the Variety Children’s Charity, which has generously supported RDA for more than a decade, has shifted its focus and RDA is no longer a big part of the overall plan.
According to Sue Vincent, a long-time supporter of RDA Victor Harbor including many years as president, all RDA centres have been told they now need to start running as a business to raise desperately needed funds.
“The parents have to convince the NDIS planners that RDA is a therapeutic outlet for their children and it does have benefits,” Sue said.
“Everyone can see the benefit with speech pathology, physio and so, but it is a hard sell for our guys in our head office, who have done a wonderful job, to tell them what it means for a child who is disabled to experience physical and mental accomplishment when riding a horse.
“You have to be out here to see it in the eyes of the children. Ask about the positive feedback from parents on how much it has helped their children. They can see the difference.
“The schools can no longer bring the children here; the parents need to. We had two lessons for primary school catering for 14 children. Now we have three primary school children. In regard to the high school, we have one mother who is able to bring her child.
“At the moment we have two horses out of the program because of retirement and another is going blind. Another horse, Fergus, needs surgery. We need to find that money. We always had at least eight horses, but now we have two big horses who are getting up in age and two ponies.”
Sadly, Sue lost her husband and best friend John – he was everyone’s friend at RDA – almost a year ago, and between them they had helped hundreds through this RDA program. With amazing support from other volunteers they watched frightened and confused kids become confident young people.
Local businesses, places like RNI Constructions, which has basically built the Morgan Park complex now named John Vincent Memorial Arena, have been remarkable with their generosity.
There’s FPAG, Fleurieu Philanthropy, Rotary, Lions and others, but more help is needed.
Remarkably, Sue and John never had a child with a disability. It has always been about the kids.
RDA has always been more than teaching kids how to ride a horse. It’s been their opportunity to look down from the saddle and have this a sense of enormous achievement of not only learning how to ride a horse, but doing something a vast majority of the rest of us cannot do. How amazing they are in their world.
“I ask you,” Sue said. “How do these loving mums and dads and carers, who work and try so hard to do everything possible for their children who have a disability, tell them they can’t go to riding lessons anymore?”
There are numerous ways you can RDA Victor Harbor like getting a group together and sponsoring a horse. Please contact Sue: 0417 803 351.