Seeing children who spend their life in a wheelchair experience the motion of walking while in the saddle of a horse is one of the reasons Sharon Aldersley loves her coaching role at Tauranga Riding for the Disabled.
The former physiotherapist says she chose her career path after working as an RDA volunteer in Gisborne as a teenager.
Having since left physiotherapy to have a family, Mrs Aldersley brought a wealth of skills and knowledge with her when she returned to RDA in Tauranga one morning a week. Two-and-a-half years on and she now shares the coaching role with fellow coach Jesse Vale and says her knowledge of how the body works helps her put into practice what disabled riders own physiotherapists recommend.
But for Mrs Aldersley the real reward is seeing children, who may not be able to experience many of the things their peers can, develop a skill others won't.
"Here they can excel and learn to ride. In the severely disabled they do get physical benefits but it's just something they can do (for themselves)."
Mrs Aldersley said the walking gait of a horse also gave riders in wheelchairs or those who are learning to walk the chance to experience and understand the walking motion. "The movement of the horses is very similar to our walking pattern."
She said many of the riders were on the autistic spectrum and struggled to interpret human facial expressions, something that was not an issue when interacting with animals. "That's not threatening from a dog or a horse. I think that's a huge side of it is that the children have got this other world where they've got their own relationship with the horses and the volunteers and to see them develop in confidence is huge."
Mrs Aldersley said the chance to use her skills to help disabled children was a wonderful experience. "I just think that the potential for something like this is amazing."