Carlisle charity looking for volunteers to help disabled youngsters
Last updated at 18:38, Monday, 11 October 2010
Watching 10-year-old Ella Cooper-Holmes ride around the ring at Blackdyke, she looks comfortable, confident and in control.
It’s hard to believe that this youngster is registered disabled. In actual fact quadriplegic – meaning that it affects all of her limbs.
At the age of three, Ella, who suffers from cerebral palsy, could barely move. She couldn’t walk or even sit up by herself and mum Joanne never imagined for a second she’d ever ride a horse.
Yet seven years later she can not only ride, but ride well.
For her mum it is nothing short of a miracle and one that she believes is firmly down to Riding for the Disabled – a Carlisle-based charity that aims to give handicapped youngsters the same opportunities as others.
For Ella – and many others like her – it is largely because of the weekly riding sessions that she has gained so much mobility.
“Ella started riding because it was recommended by a physiotherapist,” says Joanne. “If you’d seen her when she first came, she was literally non-mobile. She couldn’t even sit up on a horse.
“She has come on so much since then. She loves riding and has taken part in competitions. It’s something that she can do – she can achieve just like other children and doesn’t have to be different.”
Ella is one of about 16 children who attend the sessions at Blackdyke Farm, Blackford, every Thursday. They are made possible thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers who give up their time to make a difference.
The Carlisle group is a branch of the Riding for the Disabled Association and is run entirely on donations and goodwill.
When it was first founded 37 years ago, it didn’t even have a permanent base.
“Initially we had to take our own ponies to a field at Scotby, where we would meet five or six children,” says Gillian Yarrow, a founder member.
“The children just loved it. Being on a horse is a huge challenge but gives them a tremendous confidence boost. We’ve had children go onto riding competitions and championships. Just look at Ella and some of the others, they were told they wouldn’t walk unaided.”
All these years on and Gillian, who instructs the classes, is still as passionate about it as she was at the start. “Some children come on better than others. For weeks you can get nothing then all of a sudden you get a glimmer of something – it might just be a smile – and it makes it all worth it. It’s so rewarding. If I won the lottery tomorrow I would give up my work and concentrate purely on Riding for the Disabled. There are so many more children out there who want to do it and would benefit.”
Among the children who currently take part are pupils from James Rennie School in Carlisle, which caters for all kinds of disabilities. Headteacher Corinna Cartwright said it amazing to see how much they can achieve.
“We try to give them all a chance to come. Some of our profoundest and most complex youngsters come here and go on the horses. In school they may struggle to keep their heads up, yet they get on a horse and are amazing,” she says.
Recently both of the Thursday afternoon groups took part in the national and regional Musical Ride Competition 2010. It followed weeks of choreographing and rehearsing their routines, which were then filmed and sent away to the national judges.
The first group, made up of individual riders who attend every week, came second in the regional heats. The James Rennie came third, then went on to clinch second prize in the national championships.
This week all of the youngsters received certificates and rosettes for taking part during a special presentation at Blackdyke.
Connor Dixon, of Longtown, was among those who took part. It was a huge achievement for the six-year-old, whose life has been transformed since starting Riding for the Disabled.
He suffers from congenital myotonic dystrophy, which affects his movement and development. When he first came he could hardly hold his head up and needed two people with him just to stay on the horse. Over the years his family have witnessed him getting stronger and stronger and were over the moon to see him with his rosette.
It was the same for his friend Faye Bisset, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. The Carlisle youngster has been attending Riding for the Disabled since she was tiny and is now so good she will soon move over to the advanced classes on Tuesday nights. Mum Fiona says: “She no longer needs anyone to walk with her. She can control the horse herself and takes it very seriously.
“She was really shy at first but isn’t any more. It’s really helped her confidence and is how she gained her balance.”
Yet there are still many more disabled children who would benefit. However, in order to widen the net, the charity not only needs money but also helpers. In the past 12 months it has lost two of its most dedicated volunteers – Annette Nutt, who died in July after a short battle with cancer, and Yvonne Puttick, who died suddenly almost a year ago. They are sadly missed by everyone, not least the children, but their families can take comfort from the knowledge that they made a real difference to the lives of many disabled youngsters.
The group, which was already short of helpers, is now looking for new volunteers to help boost numbers every Thursday afternoon. They are appealing to anyone who can spare a few hours – whether they are retired, currently unemployed or students looking to expand their CVs – to get in touch.
Gavin Hodgson, 21, lives near Longtown and is hoping to join the airforce. In the meantime he has found that volunteering with Riding for the Disabled is a brilliant way to widen his experiences while helping others.
“Last summer I decided I wanted to do some voluntary work so my mum suggested I try Riding for the Disabled. It’s been great, I wanted to do something to help people less fortunate than I am and the children are all great. They love it, and that makes it all worthwhile. I would definitely recommend it,” he adds.
Meanwhile it is up to the committee to ensure they have the funds to keep the charity going. Chairwoman Juliet Westoll has been in post for over 15 years and said everyone gives up their time for free. That means every penny they get from fundraising, donations and legacies goes to help the children.
Having lost her disabled son Charlie when he was just two years old, it is a cause close to her heart. She has tried to turn a negative into a positive by devoting a large part of her life to helping other youngsters.
“It’s a very hands-on charity and gives the children so much pleasure, plus it’s really beneficial to their development,” she says. “A lot of these children are usually in wheelchairs and tend to see everything from quite a low perspective. You put them on a pony and they are immediately elevated and you notice a change straightaway. So many sports are not open to them because of their disability. This gives them a real sense of freedom.”
For more information about Riding for the Disabled, or to become a volunteer, call Blackdyke Farm Riding Centre on 01228 74633.
First published at 11:32, Monday, 11 October 2010
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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