Most people walk on two legs, I walk on four.
Okay, granted that sentence may need some elaborating. So here goes, the name’s Renee and I have had the privilege and joy of riding horses all my life because of the RDA.
I have had Athetoid Cerebral Palsy since birth. My independence relies upon me using an electric wheelchair to get around and I also have a speech impairment that prohibits some people from conversing with me. My form of Cerebral Palsy, in layman’s terms, means I have exaggerated movement with little to no gradual muscle tone, my muscles go from extreme tightness to extreme floppiness in a matter of seconds.
It took me years of intense therapy to get to where I am today. It was very slow going in those early years and so my mum knew that she would need something special to see real development.
My mum rode horses as a teenager, so when she stumbled on a pilot program for toddlers with a disability to do physio on horseback, she signed me up without hesitation. She knew the physical benefits and enjoyment that came from riding. The program was run by an RDA coach and a physiotherapist. The program used the way a horse walks to mimic the movements of an able-bodied person. This strengthened my muscles in the legs, pelvis and core.
My journey with RDA had begun and I was hooked on riding at age three.
I was supposed to be in the pilot program for six months. At this time, I wasn’t able to sit up for any extended period of time nor was I able to verbalise my speech. My improvement in that first six months was so exponential that they allowed me to continue until I was placed in a ‘regular’ RDA lesson at the RDA Doveton Centre. While in the program my core strength improved so much that I was able to sit up, then crawl and then begin to talk; having relied on a communication book or basic sign language to communicate up until that time.
With a person leading the horse and a person either side to support me, I was able to ride. An accessible platform enabled me to get from my wheelchair directly to the horse. With training and encouragment, I was riding with only one person by my side, then none and finally completely independent with no leader; I now only need help to mount and dismount.
After being in the RDA Doveton program for thirteen years, progressing from lesson to lesson, gaining certificate after certificate, I moved to a new local centre called RDA Western Port.
Western Port is an outdoor centre situated in a reserve in Crib Point. In 4 years, my club has enabled me to grow tremendously in my independence on the horse and in my achievements. All my coaches have encouraged me; however, my current coach, Kate, really sees me achieving far beyond my current abilities. She entered me and the other riders in annual RDA dressage competitions, which resulted in me winning the RDA state Championships in 2017.
Kate set up RDA Western Port and, through her determination, our centre has gone from strength to strength. The centre relies almost solely on fundraising and donations from external sources to keep running. Under her kind eye, volunteers run themselves to the moon and back, just so people like myself are able to ride. Their efforts of feeding horses, checking on them, grooming, administering medicine, maintaining equipment, even weeding and setting up the arena for the lessons denote that I am granted freedom of movement. Freedom of moving naturally without an artificial device.
Even though my mum is the one who has always taken me to horse riding and, in her words always will, my dad comes to watch on occasion. He once remarked that I look like a different person while on a horse; not someone without a disability completely but rather a person with a disability who sits up slightly straighter, in complete control of a horse and with all the confidence in the world.
So yes, I’m someone who walks on four legs, not two and quite frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.