A 14 year old schoolgirl school turns her interest in horse riding and her talent for writing into a major fund raising project for the Riding for the Disabled Association

Who knows what it’s like to ride a horse? Would you like to share some thoughts on how it feels to be on a horse? [Encourage feedback.]

It’s a very special feeling, quite unlike anything else. That’s because the horse is a big living creature. It allows you on its back, and you can feel its warmth and movement, and its breathing and the little noises it makes. It knows you’re there, and you feel that you can talk to it, and when you do you can imagine that it’s listening and maybe having a think about the things you’re saying.

This is a particularly beneficial experience for those with special needs – perhaps someone who has difficulties with walking or movement, or with seeing or speaking. Sitting on and riding a horse is good for posture, muscle tone, and exercise. The horse is relatively comfortable and safe, and there’s this lovely warm animal close to you, who is treating you the same as everyone else. You can see lots of interesting things as you trot down the road or through a forest, and you’re higher than everyone else, so you have a terrific sense of freedom. This may be especially exciting if normally you’re low down in a wheelchair, or unable to go for walks through nature at all.

To make it possible for people with special needs to ride horses, there’s an organisation called Riding for the Disabled, known as the RDA. There are RDA groups all over the country, where volunteers and horses and ponies help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to ride. They do some wonderful work. Here’s what one mum says about her daughter Claire, who is a wheelchair user.

“It is lovely that she has the chance to be out in the fresh air, feeling and seeing the change in the seasons and weather. Riding is definitely one of the highlights of Claire’s week – it’s her chance to do something that no-one else does within the family.”

But Claire can only have that experience because volunteers donate their time, and the use of their horses and ponies, in order for others to experience the same enjoyment that they do. Today we’re going to hear about one of those volunteers – a special young woman, with her special pony.

Emma and Oliver’s story
When Emma, a pupil at Sheffield High School, was aged 14 years old in Year 10 she was working hard towards her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. [You might like to take this opportunity to explain what the Duke of Edinburgh scheme is.] To complete it, she needed to provide some kind of service to the community, and as she was interested in riding and had her own pony she decided to do voluntary work with Riding for the Disabled.

As a volunteer Emma did lots of different kinds of jobs at a riding centre, like grooming very muddy ponies. While she was doing that she found out that the riding stables where she was working wanted to build an outdoor all-weather riding surface – which is called a manege (pronounced ma’nezh). But to do this they needed lots of money.

“I decided to think about what I could do to help. A raffle wouldn’t raise enough – we needed serious money.”

So Emma came up with the idea of writing a book and selling it. And that is exactly what she did.

She didn’t have any trouble thinking of a story. She had lots of ideas about horses and ponies, and she decided to write about her own pony, Oliver.

The difficult bit was getting the book into print. But Emma managed it by asking various firms who supply products for horses and riding – like helmets, clothing, and horse trailers – to pay for adverts in her book. Eight generous firms did that, and you can see their adverts in the finished book. That meant that Emma could have her book nicely printed, and that every penny that people paid for it would go into a special bank account called “Emma and Oliver”.

She called her book, “Oliver. A very special pony”. It’s a lovely story about a young pony who’s told he is special. He doesn’t know why anyone thinks he’s special, but one day Emma, his human companion, sees an advert for Riding for the Disabled. Then, the book says;

“Emma knew at once that Oliver would make a super RDA pony. His love of people and life, his trusting nature, his strong back and legs would be perfect.”

And so Oliver finds his purpose in life, giving joy and hope to lots of children.

“A very special pony indeed.”

When Emma’s book was printed it looked very professional, with lovely illustrations done by one of Emma’s relatives who is an artist. Emma worked hard to sell it. She gave interviews to the newspapers, and she persuaded lots of shops and organisations to stock it, including her hairdressers. She even stood in Asda, Teso and Morrisons selling it herself. Because it had cost nothing to produce, thanks to the generous help she had from sponsors, she could sell it for only a pound which meant that lots of people could buy it.

In the end the book raised five thousand pounds, and so many other people and organisations were interested in what Emma was doing that she ended up raising another five thousand pounds, making it possible for the all-weather riding surface to be built. It is now open and you can see it on Emma and Oliver’s website.

Emma was already helping Riding for the Disabled by working at a riding centre; that alone would have been good work, much more than most of us find time for. But that wasn’t enough for her. She knew that she had the talent and confidence to go much further. How many of us, I wonder, could go a bit further with whatever we are doing to help people – run an extra errand, find another job to do, look for a new problem to solve?

A prayer
Lord, we thank you for the lives of inspirational people who show us what’s possible. Give all of us strength and courage when we find life difficult, and may we always try to use our abilities and talents in ways that help other people.

Sometimes people talk about “going the extra mile”. It’s a saying that means that, although you think you might have done enough, perhaps you can find a bit extra to do. Emma did that in very generous measures.

Further information
Would you like to read Emma’s book, and help the RDA by buying a copy? Talk about it in class and look at Emma’s website, which tells you how to order the book. She still has plenty left, and although the all-weather surface is built, there is still always a need for funds for the RDA. And, if you like Emma and Oliver’s book, don’t forget to write to them both to tell them!

Find out about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh