Milestone for riding group

April 27, 2018

A recent RDA session in Shepparton.

Mooroopna Ladies Golf Club president Mary Williams with Nikita the horse, RDA secretary Cathy Hamilton, Penny Johnson, Helen Kiss, Sandy O'Connor and Lorna Grant ahead of a recent fundraiser day.

Volunteers help Willy Almond get on his horse Conroy.

Shepparton Riding for the Disabled Association treasurer Keren Fletcher (front) and secretary Cathy Hamilton with Nikita.

It was just under 40 years ago when a group of volunteers came together in Zelda Lane’s home.

About 20 volunteers had gathered, along with her parents Elvira and George Lane, to discuss the idea of offering horseriding lessons to people living with a disability in Shepparton.

The late Keith Cowan became Shepparton Riding for the Disabled Association’s first president in May, 1978.

Current group secretary Cathy Hamilton said it was a humble beginning for the group, which floated in horses from outlying farms to the Shepparton Showgrounds.

‘‘RDA is a not-for-profit organisation that enables individuals with a variety of disabilities, ages and backgrounds to develop independence, a sense of freedom and to reach their equestrian goals, through adaptive coaching techniques and equipment,’’ she said.

According to the group’s history book, self-published by Beryl Goodfellow in 2013, the first riding session was held on June 20, 1978, in Princess Park, Shepparton.

But after just two years of operation, then-president Mr Cowan secured a lease for 20acres (8ha) at the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE campus on Wanganui Rd, Shepparton.

‘‘This move enabled us to keep all our horses together in one place for the first time,’’ wrote Mrs Goodfellow, who spent time as an RDA coach, served on the horse care committee and took on the tasks of liaison officer and running the kitchen.

By the 1990s, a regular Saturday morning group had formed as well as the ongoing Tuesday sessions which had taken place since the beginning.

‘‘The majority of the riders (on Saturday mornings) were young children with cerebral palsy who attended the Conductive Education Facility in Tongala,’’ Mrs Goodfellow documented.

Mrs Goodfellow said these children had poor muscle tone and little core body strength so riding was modified at first to allow them to progress to sitting upright.

‘‘The first riding experience for many of the children was lying on a sheepskin rug along the back of the pony,’’ she wrote.

Mrs Goodfellow said the various stories of the riders could fill the pages of another book.

‘‘Every rider makes an achievement in some way or another, whether it be overcoming a fear or mastering the art of balance or developing a friendship,’’ she wrote.

Ms Hamilton said the 40th anniversary celebration this month would be a chance for those involved with the centre during the years to share memories of their time with the horses and riders.

‘‘The attendees will include foundation and life members, sponsors, and past and present volunteers,’’ she said.

An afternoon tea will be held on Sunday, April 29, from 2.30pm at the RDA Centre, William Orr GoTafe Campus, Wanganui Rd, Shepparton. To attend the celebration or volunteer at Shepparton Riding for the Disabled, phone Cathy Hamilton on 58265177 or email rdashepparton

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