Nicola Sutcliffe has been a RDA volunteer since February.
Being a RDA volunteer wasn’t something Nicola had thought about until it was suggested to her as a way to learn more about horses. She wanted her own horse, but didn’t know enough about stable care or management. The best way to learn, she was told, was on the job. But when it was suggested she could do this as a RDA volunteer, she was initially apprehensive.
Previously working as head of marketing in a college, Nicola had occasionally come into contact with students with additional needs, but still wondered whether she would be able to communicate properly with RDA riders. “I was a bit nervous about that,” she says.
But her fears were soon forgotten. Nicola took to the RDA sessions “like a duck to water”.
Nicola says that she had wanted to give something back to the community, and being a RDA volunteer sounded like the perfect opportunity. “I remember the first day here, it was great because I was doing all the stable stuff. I was mucking out, I was grooming and learning how to put the saddle and bridle on.” On that first day, there were three RDA rides. “It was absolutely the most uplifting thing I had ever done in my life,” she says. “It really was.”
Nicola says that anybody who is thinking of being a RDA volunteer should “go for it”. RDA riders can be either children or adults, and it involves working with a range of needs, from severe cerebral palsy to autism spectrum.
“With some you just have to walk by their side ‒ some don’t need leading,” she explains. “Some are quite severe, so you need people on either side and one person leading.
“To see the transformation ‒ particularly with somebody with really severe cerebral palsy who can’t walk unaided... and yet when they get on a horse they are almost transformed. Suddenly they’ve developed core muscles that they don’t have when they are walking. They develop confidence, you can see the smile grinning from ear to ear, they absolutely love it... they’ve got a bond with the animal. I don’t know how it is... it’s like a magic trick.”
So what does she want to tell potential RDA volunteers? Nicola pauses for a moment and adds: “I’ve never been happier. Say that from me.”