Thursday 25 September 2008

First day of term - Riding for the Disabled Association

Today was my first proper day helping out with Riding for the Disabled Hong Kong. I went to a couple of training sessions last week, but today it was for real.

The riding school at Pok Fu Lam is run as a regular riding school by the Hong Kong Jockey Club (them again!), and it is also the base for RDA in Hong Kong. There are two RDA sessions (10-11 and 11-12) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The rest of the time the ponies are used for normal riding school activities. The idea is that a group of disabled riders come along from their school, usually with parents or helpers and sometimes a physio. Each rider is assigned a pony, a leader and a side-helper. Then they take part in an hour-long session, led by an instructor who, in true BHS style, stands in the middle of the sand school and yells instructions (which are then translated into Cantonese - most instructors are Western, and most riders are Chinese).

I arrived at the riding school about 9.30, and tacked up Kimberley and Dimity, two of the little pocket-sized ponies. They have a simplified tack arrangement for RDA; they wear their bridles (with the noseband removed) over a headcollar, and they are led from the headcollar. They also have special, coloured reins which clip onto the headcollar too, so the bit is not really used. We use little toecaps on the stirrups to stop the kids' feet slipping through.

About 6 or 7 children arrived at 10 o'clock with a few helpers and parents. They were 5-6 year olds, with a variety of disabilities. I was side-helper for a little boy with hearing difficulties and Treacher -Collins syndrome. It's easy to forget that many of these children have never seen a horse, let alone sat on one! It must be quite frightening, especially as the children are rather alone all of a sudden, after being used to having carers or parents right next to them all day every day. To get on a horse and be led around by Westerners speaking a language you don't understand is quite a challenge! We spent about half an hour walking around with our little boy and the group did a few simple tasks, like clapping their hands, and holding a toy up in the air - however his favourite thing was to watch himself in the mirrors at the corners of the sand school!

Half an hour in the full sunlight was plenty for all of us. Just time for a quick drink before the next group started. The 11 o'clock group were quite a lot older, maybe 12-15, and we had a fresh batch of ponies, tacked up by the mah fus (sorry, don't know how to spell that, but they are the guys who work full-time at the stables) I was leading Bobby, a rather grumpy mare with a biting habit. The girl riding had Down's Syndrome. She had excellent balance, and responded very well to the instructor's directions. Judging from her huge smile and positive reactions, I think she really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to more next week.

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