Long time friends Joshua Williams and Jarrod Braithwaite have a routine of weekly activities which keeps them and their caregivers busy around Hamilton; but without doubt the one they look forward to the most is horse riding.
Both are regular riders at the Hamilton Group of Riding for the Disabled at Pukete where, once the electric winch ensures they are securely seated on one of the dozen RDA horses, they are ready for another fun morning session.
Riding with two volunteers per horse, a sidewalker and a leader, they walk through a course of flags and obstacles in the all-weather covered arena followed by a short trek to the hay barn out the back of the property.
Joshua's granddad and caregiver Ian Williams says Josh has been riding there for 10 years.
"He really enjoys it; he's always happy when he's having a ride," says Ian.
Jarrod's support worker Tanna Puru says: "We have lots of activities to do during the week; but Jarrod loves the freedom of being on the horse and getting out of his wheelchair.
"He's also a social butterfly and loves the ladies at Riding for the Disabled," she says.
The property is leased from the city council and the group shares the facilities with the Waikato Combined Equestrian Group which uses them afternoons and Saturdays.
Hamilton RDA coach/manager Hannah Doughty says the group has worked extremely hard to create the best environment possible for the riders but there is still much to be done and more money to be raised. A plan launched in 2012 has seen the arena covered and a wash bay and stables built for the horses.
"Their workload is very high compared to your average domestic horse," says Hannah.
"The stables allow them to have a quiet space away from the herd environment in which they live the rest of the time and also make it more efficient and safer for our staff and volunteers to prepare them for work and untack at the end of the day," she says.
Two weeks ago the third and final stage of the project was completed with the opening of a training, teaching and therapy assessment classroom beside the arena.
"This room will be used during RDA sessions and through NZRDA for coaches from around New Zealand, and be used as a volunteer's room during the week," says Hannah.
"The classroom will enable us to expand and improve our current programme and we plan to design a sensory programme to be based in the classroom as well as using it as a base for early intervention horse riding and the expansion of our school holiday programme," she says.
Well known horse racing identities David and Karen Ellis of Te Akau Racing are patrons of the Hamilton RDA.
Karen officially opened the classroom and the concrete path that allows wheelchair access to the new facility.
"Seeing the smiles on the young people who are riding these horses brings a smile to my face, and I can't say enough about the people that work here and that make such a significant difference in these people's lives," she says.
"We are going to make sure this army keeps marching forward, and that we keep making an impact on these people's lives."
Te Akau Racing won 17 group one races last year. She says she and Dave have pledged to contribute $250 to Hamilton RDA for each race they win this season.
"We have won three already, so that's $750 to begin with," she says.
More volunteers urgently needed
Hamilton RDA, an incorporated charity, provides therapeutic horse riding opportunities to adults, young people and children who are experiencing disability.
Coach/manager Hannah Doughty has no hesitation when asked what is the group's greatest need. "We are desperately short of volunteers," she says.
Don't worry if you know little about horses, full training in all roles is provided. Volunteers are needed as horse leaders and sidewalkers as well as in other ways which support the group.
The RDA group has 180 riders; last year it provided 3800 individual rides or about 120 to 130 rides each week. More volunteers will enusure this level of service will continue.
The group would also welcome individuals or companies to sponsor each of the 12 horses.
"The very basic costs of caring for a horse total $3000 a year," says Hannah.
"Right now we have three sponsored horses but our goal is to have them all sponsored," she says.
■ If you would like to find out more or offer your help see the group's website www.hamiltonrda.com or contact Hannah Doughty at 0275 426 732