Britain’s unsung equine heroes: the RDA pony — ‘it can be a lot for any horse to cope with, but Ted took to it immediately’

Every day, our horses work for us tirelessly, teaching riding skills, providing therapy and promoting equestrianism. In this series, we meet some of the horses and ponies who are Britain’s unsung heroes, such as Ted from Mid Cheshire Riding for the Disabled

The Mid Cheshire branch is an affiliated member of the national charity The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), which has been going strong since 1964, making it the oldest official organisation of its kind. Ted has been a stalwart at the Mid Cheshire RDA charity branch for the past six years, under the watchful eye of Jeanette Dixon and the Mid Cheshire committee.

Jeanette has been involved with the RDA both as a rider and an organiser for around 35 years.

“The RDA is a very big part of my life as I had polio in childhood and riding continues to be important therapy for me. Each RDA ‘group’ is an individual charity, so we follow RDA guidelines but then we’re free our group in our own way and we are self-funded. We have children, aged five and above, and adults, often from schools or residential homes. For the physically disabled, riding gives them back a form of independent movement. It’s good exercise, especially for riders who have trouble supporting their own weight, and it helps to build core strength. It’s particularly beneficial for riders with cerebral palsy — it can take a couple of years, but we’ve seen some spectacular results.

“The RDA have developed a tool called the therapy tracker, which means we can continually assess the rider on a number of levels including social skills, enjoyment, ability to build a relationship and physical changes. Those changes can be subtle, but they’re extremely satisfying for the volunteers to see.

“Ted’s full name is Father Ted V — I’m not sure what happened to his four predecessors! He came to us on loan, and we had him for 18 months before his owner decided, reluctantly, that she wanted to sell him. By that point, we were so reliant on him that we decided we couldn’t afford to lose him. We’re under the flight path for Manchester Airport, so we applied for a grant from their charity, the Community Trust Fund, and bought Ted with the money.

Helen riding Ted with Jeanette

“Ted is really the archetypal RDA pony. He’s completely unflappable, and we can put anyone on him. He’s done everything with Mid Cheshire RDA — he’s been to regional shows, he’s done the countryside challenge and he always qualifies for the national championships. In fact, in the past year we had three riders qualify and the other pony due to go went lame at the last minute, so all three rode Ted! He’s also taken part in video dressage with a number of our riders, as well as a charity fundraising ride and the Knutsford Mayor’s May Day Parade as an ambassador for our charity.

“Working with the RDA isn’t for every pony — we have some autistic riders who can be noisy and unpredictable. It can be a lot for any horse to cope with, but Ted took to it immediately. Although he went through our standard training routine as usual, we got the impression it wasn’t really necessary! With some riders we have to have a leader and two side walkers, which can be claustrophobic for the horses, but Ted has never put a foot wrong. He is such a calm horse, and our volunteers and riders alike love and trust him.”

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Helen Williams (pictured top and above riding Ted), 40, has Downs Syndrome and has been coming to Mid Cheshire RDA for the past two years to ride Ted.

“I always ride Ted, I like the things we can do together,” she says. “I like taking him to shows. I had a knock to my confidence a couple of years ago — not in riding, just in life — and Ted’s really given me a boost. Now I come once a week, and always ride Ted.”

“Helen qualified with Ted at the RDA regional show last year and went to the RDA national championships at Hartpury in the countryside challenge — we were thrilled when they were second. He was also third with another rider,” says Jeanette. “We hope it will be a long time before Ted retires as he’s part of the backbone of the group. As he gets older, we’ll start to scale his workload back and if he wants to retire we’ll find him the right place to go. All our horses here are special, but Ted is the one we’re going to struggle to replace.”

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