Around a year ago I decided it was time I did some volunteering. As a recently retired Support for Learning teacher and a life-long horse lover, RDA Glasgow was a very obvious and easy choice! Although I am confident around horses and have experience of caring for them, I remember being irrationally nervous at my first induction session. Doing things like tying a ‘quick release’ knot (something I have done hundreds if not thousands of times before) suddenly becomes a challenge when you’re being observed! Fortunately my ‘model’ Timmy was a true gentleman and helped me through to the next stage of the induction process which involved side-walking and leading some of the young people who attend lessons at Sandyflat.
During the years I spent as a support for learning teacher in a large secondary school, I worked with many young people with a wide range of additional support needs who loved horse-riding. Some had language and communication difficulties and found making and maintaining friendships with peers a real challenge. A pupil once explained to me that horses don’t judge or criticise you and they don’t fall out with you. I’m not sure that I completely agree with this – my daughter’s horse definitely did fall out with me one day when I forgot to have an apple in my pocket when I brought her in from the field! What the pupil meant of course, was that he could forge a relationship with a horse which was free from the stresses and complications which he encountered in his relationships with peers and adults.
Some of the pupils I taught had physical disabilities. For them, riding offered the chance to participate in an activity on more equal terms with their able-bodied friends. I ran a
Riding Club which was open to all pupils in the school and I can still see the huge grin on the face of one girl who had cerebral palsy when I helped her pin on the rosette she had won in a gymkhana game! This was the first award she had ever won for any sort of sporting activity.
Volunteering at RDA Glasgow has given me a new chance to have these lovely encounters on a weekly basis. I recently worked with a pupil whose teacher was photographing all the young people in the class to display their achievements in school and to share with parents. When encouraged to smile he replied “I don’t know how to do that”. A few minutes later, following a brisk trot round the arena he was grinning from ear to ear! Solo had worked a magic which had eluded both me and his teacher!
RDA is a wonderful organisation which provides the chance for adults and young people whose lives are filled with stresses and challenges, to have fun, form relationships and to achieve. Each Wednesday and Friday when I come along to help, I know I will go home having enjoyed the (always entertaining!) company of the office, yard and teaching staff and fellow volunteers. I will have been humbled by the challenges faced by so many of the riders and cheered up by the happy faces at the end of the lessons. I will feel ‘chilled’ after a morning spent with a few of RDA Glasgow’s lovely horses and ponies – hugging a horse is one of the best ways I know for making the world seem a better place.
And for the record, Precious gives the best hugs – ever!
By Lesley Miller.