Claudia Cameron didn't know she had been nominated for coach of the year when she took out the top honour at the New Zealand Riding for the Disabled's National Conference and Awards night last month.
The nomination came from Cameron's colleagues at Tauranga Riding for the Disabled, where she had worked with hundreds of children over the past four years.
Cameron, who was originally from the United Kingdom, said she had always loved horses and been a rider her whole life.
The 29-year-old had an interest in working with children with disabilities so it was "only natural" for her to become a coach at the association.
Cameron coached children of all ages in groups of four to six at a time who all faced different challenges.
Many children who used the service were on the autism spectrum or had other intellectual disabilities, some children had physical or developmental disabilities.
"Working with a small group of children is really good because we can set individual goals for each child," she said.
Cameron gave up much of her spare time to help other local groups including setting up a Special Olympics riding group in Tauranga which was incorporated into the association's schedule, she volunteered her time to a local para-equestrian rider and had been a coach for a local pony club.
She was also a volunteer trainer and assessor for New Zealand Riding for the Disabled Association and was on the committee of both pony club and Special Olympics.
"I really love working with the riders and all the volunteers.
"I am so grateful to have received this award. It's lovely to be able to receive recognition for a job I'm so passionate about. I have amazing riders and I am so proud to be able to help them reach their goals."
Tauranga Riding for the Disabled Association manager Elisha Olds said Claudia was a real gem to have on the team.
"She is the office entertainer and brings so much to the team, getting the recognition of the coach of the year is a very special achievement and we are all so very proud of her," she said.
Tauranga Riding for the Disabled was the biggest of the 55 in New Zealand with 140 riders a week and the help of more than 100 volunteers.
Olds said growth over the past year had been huge with a waiting list of more than 100. There were plans in the near future for an extension of the facilities and the programmes to meet the growing demand.
The benefits of equine therapy
The centre caters for children and adults who are challenged with physical, mental and cognitive difficulties. Horse riding is used as a therapy because it is an exciting, challenging and motivating activity, based on rhythm and symmetry and can provide excellent therapy. Beyond that the RDA team recognises that a relationship with a horse offers the opportunity for acceptance, nurturing, and physical affection as well as the development of a sense of achievement and empowerment.