Our July meeting saw Jan Derbyshire, chairman of The Shelley Centre for Therapeutic Riding, accompanied by her deputy Chairman Margaret Fowler, come to talk to us about the Riding for the Disabled charity.
Jan started with the words “It’s what you CAN do that counts” and then read a poem entitled “I Can”.
Jan explained to us that she was an unlikely character to be where she is today, at the head of a riding centre for disabled people. She was raised in Uganda, later moving to Hong Kong. She eventually came back to this country and was a “Townie” living and working in London, in nursing, in banking and also in recruitment, then moving to Dedham 30 years ago. After retirement a chance meeting with a neighbour got her volunteering for an hour a week at the Shelley Centre, which is set in picturesque countryside.
An hour a week led to a day a week, she learnt to lead a horse, then to ride a horse; she trained to be an instructor, then she went on the Committee and eight years ago became Chairman of what is now a Trust.
We found out that riding has long been known to improve mental and physical health, even as long ago as in Greece in the 5th Century B.C., and it was used to help First World War victims. The Riding for the Disabled Charity officially came in to being in 1969, and there were 80 groups scattered throughout the country. Now there are 600, including The Shelley Centre for Therapeutic Riding, which has been open since 1989. It has seen many changes over the years, with the introduction of Health and Safety regulations, CRB checks, First Aid requirements, etc.
The Centre has 10 horses and ponies, lots of tack and specialist equipment, and even a side-saddle. They have a carriage for driving and Ebony the computerised mechanical horse. (You may have read ‘Ebony’s Blog’ in Capel Capers.) There are between 95 and 100 volunteers and over 100 riders attend each week. The Centre costs £70,000 a year to run, so much fund-raising is needed.
Jan impressed upon us that RDA is a therapy, not just a ride on a horse. Riding uses every muscle in the body, improves internal organs as well as posture, and gives the riders more self-confidence. They also have to try to fit the school curriculum into lessons, using colours, letters and numbers, amongst other things, in the arena. She also told us that many of the Paralympians, like Sophie Christiansen, have been discovered through the RDA.
We saw several film clips showing children and adults riding, and so obviously enjoying every minute of it, and we heard from families what a big impact RDA has had on those they were able to help. In some cases the riders said it was the first time they had ever been able to achieve anything which made them feel they had been set free from their disabilities for that short time when they are sat on their horse.
Jan was an excellent speaker, full of information delivered passionately and with wit. At the end of this very informative and enjoyable evening we presented Jan with a cheque for £100 to help The Shelley Centre’s funds.
For more information visit their website: www.rda-east.org.uk/shelley.html