A week with special needs students as a break from teenaged studying at Havelock North High School three decades ago very much sowed the seed for Donna Kennedy, QSM.

A "Hawke's Bay girl through and through" although based in Wellington for more than two decades, she was awarded a Queen's Service Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours announced on Monday.

Based in Wellington and now operations manager of New Zealand Riding for the Disabled New Zealand she told Hawke's Bay Today of the week she spent at Kowhai Special School.

"It had a profound effect on me," she said. "I've never forgotten it."


Raised on a farm at Maraetotara, southeast of Hastings, she rode as a child with Tuki Tuki Pony Club. That week's experience - despite having originally moved to Wellington in 1992 to work with the Audit Office after studying at Massey University and four years overseas - and a life with children and horses meant she was a natural "fit for the job".

In Wellington she actively sought out the Wellington RDA, and has volunteered as a coach and mentor and served two terms as president, stepping down in 2017 to become arena rebuilding project manager, having driven the WRDA relocation, including raising more than $1 million.

If it hadn't been for the Covid-19 restrictions, she would have currently been coaching 13 students, but has to help manage the feeding and exercise of 13 horses amid the loss of revenue over the past three months.

"We're all in recess," she said. "It's terrible."

She was the NZRDA Coach of the Year in 2012 and, having also served as an NZRDA board member, she was a Wellington area New Zealander of the Year Local Hero in 2017.

The 49-year-old receives the QSM for services to people with disabilities.

It was also a big moment for her parents Ross Kennedy and Barb Turner, who have also become involved, marked by their presentation of the Wellington RDA Kennedy-Turner trophy for Resilience Determination and Attitude.