Tauranga Riding for The Disabled – Horse riding therapy in demand


Tauranga Riding for The Disabled (RDA) offers equine therapy to anyone with disabilities and social challenges. The organisation is growing, with increasing demands on its services.

The RDA Equestrian Therapy Centre runs a six-day-a-week operation, catering for 135 riders each week. There are 80 volunteers supporting riders and the Centre is looking for more people to assist in meeting growing demand.

“Volunteers are at the heart of the organisation,” says manager Elisha Olds. “Those interested need have no previous experience as full training is provided,” she says. “We urge people to visit and see if Tauranga RDA is somewhere they feel they can invest their time – which could be as little or as much as they can fit into their lifestyle.

“Those who commit will be involved in an organisation that is passionate and committed to the cause of offering equine therapy to better lives.”

Elisha Olds, manager of Riding for the Disabled

Established in 1975 by a committed group of people, headed by the late Betty Blundell, the RDA Centre has remained on its six-hectare Welcome Bay site ever since, and volunteers have continued to play a significant role in its operation. In the beginning, volunteers would take the horses to Kata Street Special School, now known as Tauranga Special School. A lot has changed since those days, Elisha says.

Today, therapy riding and sport and recreational programmes cater for children and adults who are challenged with physical, mental and cognitive difficulties, including disabilities ranging from Multiple Sclerosis to Autism. Even though large numbers of people are having equine therapy each week, the Centre has an ever- increasing waiting list.

“Clients don’t have to wait long to get onto a programme, however we have riders on rotational sessions throughout the year, and our waiting list just keeps growing,” Elisha says.

Tauranga RDA has 17 therapy horses of various sizes to cater for the client range, including two mini ponies used for outreach programmes.

Elisha says being able to sit tall on a horse is a highlight for some – they get the pleasure, along with the physical and mental benefits.

“Horse riding is an exciting, challenging and motivating activity, based on rhythm and symmetry and can provide excellent therapy for the rehabilitation of physically and intellectually impaired people.”

The therapy horse is a warm, flexible and responsive animal, and is friendly and undemanding. Its walking action is three-dimensional, with movement up and down, side to side and backwards and forwards – a pattern that corresponds to the physiology of the human walk. The horse at an average walk moves a rider 2250 times in thirty minutes. “Physiotherapists say there is no other way this movement can be produced in a clinical situation,” Elisha says.

Adjustments by a rider’s body to the rhythms of a horse while striving to maintain balance, alternately activates and relaxes the muscles, particularly those of the trunk, spine, hips and pelvis.

Beyond that, most clients form a connection with their horses that improves their mental state. The RDA team recognizes that development of a relationship with a horse offers the opportunity for acceptance, nurturing, and physical affection as well as development of a sense of achievement and empowerment.

Developing a relationship with an animal that’s about 500kg builds confidence, self-esteem and effective communication skills, such as patience and clarity, Elisha says.

As well as providing therapy, Tauranga’s RDA Centre provides self-esteem programmes for at risk children and youth. These develop and nurture confidence, wellbeing, independence and compassion through therapeutic horse riding, horse care and equestrian skills. They play a valuable role in addressing social issues, providing rehabilitation, countering youth crime and in working with families, Elisha says.

RDA programmes are continually evolving to meet needs and to offer more. The latest addition is Equine Assisted growth and Learning (EAGALA). It is a non-ridden therapy that promotes emotional growth and learning. This programme can cater for almost any groups or individuals looking for growth.

Tauranga RDA offers many things to many people, says Elisha. “It’s a place of challenges, a place of achievement, a place of belonging and a place of community for riders, families, volunteers and staff.”

Tauranga Riding for the Disabled

If you are interested in supporting Tauranga RDA through volunteering, financially, or otherwise, please make contact. Tauranga RDA receives no government funding and operates through the generous support of the community via grants, donations and sponsorship.