It takes a special horse to change the life of a disabled rider.
Taupō Riding for the Disabled has taken on two rescue horses from the SPCA and is committed to nursing them back to health over the next few months.
Riding For The Disabled Association (RDA) administrator Georgie Fairest went to meet the horses a month ago and said although they were malnourished she could tell straight away they have amazing personalities.
The two horses are a grey named Bubbles and a bay named Buster, and Georgie says the pair have been together for 15 years.
"You can tell by their nature they are very kind and they have been exposed to a lot of activities. They are very balanced, calm boys," said Georgie.
However, only seven weeks ago Buster and Bubbles had a body condition factor of one out of five after being starved and neglected. It was feared Buster may not survive. The SPCA nursed the horses for three weeks, with the pair urgently needing food and veterinary treatment. Spikes from their teeth were going into their gums, they had dermatitis in their eyes and their faces still need constant washing.
A fungal infection had set into their skin and their coats need grooming. A farrier filed down their overgrown feet, which fortunately appeared to have been well looked after before they were neglected. They are still putting on weight and require tonics to aid digestion and drenching for internal parasites.
Georgie acknowledges it was a risk to take on Bubbles and Buster, but with five disabled children on the RDA waiting list she thinks it is a risk well worth taking.
"You can get them well and happy with food in their tummies, and they may perk up quite a lot and not be suitable."
On average only 50 per cent of the horses that are trialled are a good fit. Georgie says it can take months to trial a horse, with only the quietest horses being retained.
"They've got to cope with balls flying past their head. Not mind accidental bumps from the riders and not become upset when a rider screams with joy."
Currently 54 students attend the 12 weekly sessions, and there are 27 volunteers plus four high school students who attend through the Gateway job programme and the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
"We need at least 10 more volunteers to get those five students off the waiting list."
It is hoped the service can expand to include an extra session on Monday morning.
An increased number of volunteers would also allow Taupō Riding for the Disabled to train a special team that would specifically offer a service for those suffering mental illness.
"Horses have the ability to take away a person's stress and worry. I think it is because the horse is so big, the person has no space in their brain for any grief!"
She says volunteers take special pride in the positive feedback from students and their families.
"One of our parents emailed us to say attending Taupō Riding for the Disabled is the only school activity where their child isn't coming last, isn't the slowest, isn't the worst, or isn't being ignored."
Georgie says there is growing demand on the back of success with the current service, and demand from a growing number of kids with anxiety and mental health issues since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Become a volunteer or sponsor Bubbles and Buster
Taupō Riding for the Disabled is looking for 10 volunteers with happy, friendly personalities to either work with the children and horses or to help care for the horses and manage the paddocks.
"No experience is required and the work involves putting horse covers on, taking horse covers off, feeding the horses, moving fences or cleaning tack."
If you would like to volunteer at Taupō Riding of the Disabled get in touch with Georgie by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 377 0192.
Givealitte page @Rescued Ponies has been set up to raise money to cover some of the costs of nurturing Bubbles and Buster back to health. It is hoped to raise $3500 for feed, medical, chiropractor, covers, farrier treatments, session training, veterinary treatments and supplements.