Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) welcomed the Princess Royal to open its first National Training Centre in Warwickshire this week.
Her Royal Highness Princess Anne is President of the RDA and a patron of the centre which will bring together, train and inspire the charity’s volunteers and coaches from almost 500 RDA centres across the UK.
The opening event coincided with the 50th anniversary of the charity, which is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through horse riding and carriage driving.
The RDA’s new home is based at the Lowlands Equestrian Centre, in Shrewley, and the charity is aiming to deliver an important service across Warwickshire.
The centre already provides horse riding opportunities to 100 disabled children and adults in the county – a number the charity hopes to double in the coming months – while Lowlands also offers group and private riding lessons to the public, while proving a popular venue to hire.
Princess Anne, who spoke to riders and presented rosettes during her visit, said: “RDA has built a world-class reputation on the strength of its expertise, coaching and horsemanship. These are strengths that must remain at the heart of everything we do in the coming years.
“The Lowlands project will ensure we can maintain our high standards and develop our training programmes to ensure the best possible experience for RDA’s riders and carriage drivers long into the future.
“As RDA looks forward to the next 50 years, this national training centre will draw on all the experience and strength of community in RDA to create a vital and inspirational focal point for learning of which we can all be proud.”
Over recent years the charity, which helps 25,000 disabled children and adults, has further developed the range of activities it offers as well as the areas of training provided to volunteers – including equine welfare, safeguarding, disability awareness and volunteer management.
In addition, the RDA’s 18,000 qualified coaches and volunteers are supporting ever more complex forms of disability, especially in the areas of multi-disability, learning disabilities and mental health problems.
Paralympian Sophie Christiansen CBE, who boasts eight Paralympic gold medals, is also a patron of the new centre – a commitment made in recognition of her local RDA centre in Berkshire, which helped her rise to stardom.
The world number one said: “As someone whose life was transformed by learning to ride with RDA, I am delighted to be able to support this national training centre.
“I was lucky enough to be taught by a series of inspirational coaches, without whom I would never have discovered a talent for riding.
“RDA could see my potential as a young athlete and supported me every step of the way to the Paralympics. However ‘achievement’ does not have to mean a gold medal.
“It could be teaching a rider to sit up straight so they can go on to live independently or to be able to communicate to others to help on the journey to employment. Coaches can change lives.”
The centre is home to the four existing RDA groups which currently operate there, plus stables and grazing for 20 horses, indoor and outdoor arenas and training and conference facilities. The charity’s staff team will also relocate to the site.
It also boasts a working yard with indoor and outdoor arenas and classrooms to provide the ideal environment for hosting practical training sessions, workshops and demonstrations as well as events and competitions.
The focus of training will be putting riders’ and drivers’ needs first, and the RDA insist that this message will be at the heart of everything that happens at Lowlands.