Riding for the Disabled Association

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The Riding for the Disabled Association, also known as the RDA is a United Kingdom based charity[1] focused on providing horse-riding and carriage driving lessons to people with both developmental and physical disabilities.

In addition to running international operations, the RDA is also a member of the international umbrella group, the Federation of Riding for the Disabled International.[2] In the UK, the association is one of 16 members that make up the British Equestrian Federation.[3]


The Ancient Greeks as early as 600 B.C. and later the Romans recognised the therapeutic value of horseback riding. In Europe, France in particular, had documented the therapeutic use of horse riding as early as 1875. More recently, in the United Kingdom, Dame Agnes Hunt at the Orthopaedic Hospital at Oswestry during 1901 employed similar techniques. Later Miss Olive Sands MCSP took her horses to the Oxford Hospital to provide riding for the rehabilitation of soldiers wounded in the trenches during the First World War.

The achievements of Lis Hartel of Denmark are generally regarded as the impetus for the formation of therapeutic horseback riding centres throughout Europe. Polio had impaired Hartel’s mobility but not her spirit. In 1952 she won the silver medal for Individual Dressage during the Helsinki Olympics. Medical and equine professionals took notice and very soon centres for therapeutic horseback riding began to form throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

In 1951 Elsbet Bodtker, having met Liz Hartel, was inspired to give lessons to young patients on her son’s ponies. She was uniquely qualified as an international rider and a Mensendieck physiotherapist, and so had the respect and approval of the doctors.

In the United Kingdom Norah Strang, a member of the British Polio Fellowship, organized riding for children disabled by polio, at Tyne and Wear riding centre.[4] Her riders won the first national competition at Stoke Mandeville Hospital sports centre. In 1957 another remarkable lady, Mrs. Jacques, made contact with a physiotherapist in Copenhagen. By this time she had organized a team of helpers and ponies, and was offering riding to a local orthopaedic hospital. She also met Mrs. Regester who had returned from Malaya where she had been teaching disabled children to ride for some years at the request of their doctors.

Although the British medical profession was still cautious, after watching a demonstration by Mrs. Jacques and her riders at the Knightsbridge Barracks, the senior physiotherapist at St. Thomas’ Hospital was impressed. This was the start of a long and successful partnership.

Mrs. Jacques had so many enquiries that she was convinced they should start their own riding centre. The result was Grange Farm in Chigwell. A number of groups were set up by the British Red Cross Society, all of these eventually coming under the RDA umbrella.

The Princess Anne opened Hadleigh RDA on 13 June 1985. The original formation of the organisation came about during 1965, but the Charity, The Riding for the Disabled Association did not come into being until 1969. At that time Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk was president, with the Princess Anne as Patron. The RDA became a Limited Company during 2004.

The RDA is in effect a Federation of some 500 small independent groups, such as The Shelley Centre, and currently supports over 26,500 adults and children by providing riding, carriage driving and vaulting each year.

In 1996 equestrian became a Paralympic sport at the Games in Atlanta.[5] It was the largest event in Paralympics history, with 122 countries participating and it is now possible for those coming into the RDA who have the right ability and skill to eventually represent their Country as Paralympic competitors by progression through organised RDA events both regionally and nationally with the likes of Competitions held annually at Hartpury College.

From simple beginnings, the organisation has progressed in sophistication and has benefited greatly from the advice, training and guidance given by specialist Physiotherapists where planning and treatment programmes are developed for individuals, both children and adults alike. This, together with the introduction and evolution of special Saddles, Stirrups and Reins and the use of formal and protective riding clothing have added further to the development process and professionalism of the organisation. The organisation, at a few locations, now has in place sophisticated computerised mechanical horses, one of which is at The Shelley Centre, which can emulate the walk, trot and canter paces of a real horse thus enabling riders who for various reasons cannot ride an actual horse to experience the therapeutic benefits of horse riding.[citation needed]

The Riding for the Disabled Association is not confined to the UK. That vision has spread around the world. RDA Centres now operate in over 45 countries in Europe, Asia, The Americas, and Oceania. Countries include: Australia (130 centres),[6] Brasil, Canada (80 centres),[7] Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand (55 centres),[8] Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, UAE, and USA.

In 2019 the RDA celebrated its 50th anniversary at Hartpury College with the Princess Anne as patron.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charity Commission. Riding for the Disabled Association, registered charity no. 244108.
  2. ^ "Federation of Horses in Education and Therapy International (HETI)". Riding for the Disabled International. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  3. ^ "Member Bodies". British Equestrian Federation. Archived from the original on 2010-04-03.
  4. ^ "Now we are 50". Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). Retrieved 2020-06-25.
  5. ^ "Official website of the Paralympic Movement". Equestrian. Retrieved 2014-10-27.
  6. ^ "Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia". Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  7. ^ "Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA)". Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  8. ^ "New Zealand Riding for the Disabled". Retrieved 28 October 2014.

External links[edit]