An air of anticipation quivers through the Centre. Instructors, leaders, side walkers and ponies are ready and waiting. The gate slides open and the school bus pulls in. Happy faces at the windows. The driver gives a cheery wave, jumps out and opens the doors. The children disembark, not easy with wheelchairs, walkers, crutches etc, but there are smiles and laughter and happy chatter. They make their way to the covered waiting area where helpers fit them with riding  hats and check that their clothing and footwear is safe,  no flapping belts or laces.

The Instructor and helpers assist those children riding in the first session towards the arena, where the ponies and leaders are waiting quietly. Mounting is a painstaking procedure. One by one the riders are taken up the ramp of the specially designed mounting block and mounted  onto their allocated ponies. Ponies are carefully matched with their riders, in order to ensure the most therapeutic ride possible. Then each “team” consisting of leader, rider and one or two sidewalkers, moves off to a fenced off area of the arena to wait for the rest of the ride, which will ultimately consist of 4 or 5 such “teams”.

Under the eagle eye of the instructor, the lesson begins in earnest.  Selected exercises are carried out to improve posture and mobility, sometimes a game is played to unconsciously encourage movement of  stiff muscles and limbs. Lessons incorporate teaching parts of the saddlery, the points of the horse, orientation within the arena by identifying letters, barrels, markers and colours, so this goes beyond being just a riding lesson – it is more of an all-round learning experience.

Fun, laughter, challenge, group participation, stretching minds and bodies. After 15 minutes or so, the children are sitting taller, straighter and with better balance, spastic patterns are relaxed and each child has achieved – some have managed to encourage their pony to halt, others to get their pony to walk on, yet others to steer -around barrels, in and out of bending poles, over poles on the ground. Walk on…….left…….right……..whoa…… So much to master, but they are amazing, responding well, eager to learn – and smiling all the while.

After each child has ridden their lesson, they are encouraged to give their pony a thank you hug before being assisted individually to dismount. They are then escorted from the arena back to the waiting area and their bus. The journey back from the arena up to the bus is smoother, quicker than the way there a mere half hour earlier.

a typical day

Of course you actually have to be there to see and appreciate the difference.

92 children benefit each week from the unique physical and emotional therapy SARDA Gauteng provides. But it is not enough. For every one person who benefits from our riding programmes, there are 3 on the waiting list. We urgently need to expand, but in order to do so, we need funds. We are a registered NPO and also have PBO status.  We receive no government funding, and have no income other than donations and the funds raised by our hard working committee at various events throughout the year. It takes a staggering R 85 000 per month to keep everything ticking over.

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