Lack of cash threat to disabled riding group

By Amy Shanks

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Two fulltime staff at Napier Riding for the Disabled are working more than 60 hours a week, "for love," as the charity's coffers run dangerously low.

With minimal funds coming in, they can't afford upkeep on their 16 horses and ponies past the end of next month.

The service works hard to promote independence as well as providing mental and physical therapy for about 60 disabled riders a week. That's not including 30 able bodied participants.

A group of volunteers and staff struggled to carry on as normal, but as the situation worsens, closing the doors was looking more likely.

Head coach Dionne Best left her job as a lawyer in Wellington to take up the position with RDA in Napier last September, but in an effort to cut costs, also picked up the role of manager about a month ago. Around the same time she stopped taking an income so everything could go towards the animals' care .

"It's always tight, but now it's really tight, whatever we do have goes on the horses first," she told Hawke's Bay Today.

"Hoof care alone is $800 every six weeks and we can't compromise that level of care."

For some disabled riders, getting on a horse was more than confidence building. It could also give those bound to a wheel chair the experience of walking, and proved hugely beneficial for varied physical disabilities.

"Horses are the only animal whose hip movement is similar to human's," Ms Best said. "There are a lot of social benefits - confidence, independence, self control and self esteem."

Annually it costs about $170,000 to run the centre - much of which was from the Lotteries commission, who have cut funding to RDAs nationwide.

Other grants also contributed, but a messy change-over in management meant applications had not been renewed in time and they would have to wait until September for any money.

Appealing to people's good will was a last resort, but Ms Best didn't know what else to do.

"I would be devastated if we were not able to continue. It's not something you do for the money, that's not why I'm here," she said. "The thing we are lucky with is we have got about 12 volunteers who are amazing, dedicated people who are here every week."

Any little thing would help, whether it was donating hay or chaff, offering a free equine service, funding new helmets and boots or even buying tea and coffee to fuel volunteers.

"There are no luxuries but there is a lot to account for."

For children like Liam Melvin, 7, who has bilateral cochlear hearing implants as well as mild cerebral palsy losing the service would be a devastating loss.

"I absolutely love my horse. [Coming here] helps me to build a relationship with the horse and also helps my hip and leg movement," he said.

Liam has been attending Napier RDA, one to two times a week for three years and just last weekend was able to compete in a level one RDA dressage competition, held in Wellington.

He took home a blue ribbon for second place, something his mum Susan said was a huge step forward.

"When he first started he had three people walking with him and he has progressed to just one. They have therapists coming out from the hospital to give them ideas - they have had Liam lying down the horse, sitting on the horse - all sorts."

He was also able to take part in a special holiday programme, which ran for a week.

"For Liam it allows him to participate in a sport that he is able to do fully. It's different for children with disabilities, because team sports can be quite difficult. This helps him build up self esteem - he can be really good at this."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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