04/06/2008 - 22:00

Business’ chance to saddle up

04/06/2008 - 22:00


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For more than 30 years, the Riding for the Disabled Association has struggled to operate its hippotherapeutic animal rides in Western Australia.

Business’ chance to saddle up

For more than 30 years, the Riding for the Disabled Association has struggled to operate its hippotherapeutic animal rides in Western Australia.

Despite having 17 specialist centres in Western Australia, and this state being the only one to pay its physiotherapy assistants, RDAWA remains relatively unknown in the not-for-profit sector and is seeking corporate sponsorships to raise its profile.

Hippotherapeutic treatment is a form of physical therapy that utilises the unconventional movement of the horse to improve sensory processing and neurological function.

The association is a worldwide movement providing horse-related activities and therapies to people with disabilities.

In WA, there are 17 groups from as far south as Albany to as far north as Port Hedland, providing more than 600 riders with varying degrees of disability the chance to use its services.

Riders include people with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, amputees, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, and those with learning and behavioural problems.

Enhance Corporate WA director Peter Clough has been sending his 19-year-old daughter, Michelle, to the Carine RDA centre for more than 10 years. She suffers from epilepsy, is autistic, and developmentally delayed.

Mr Clough said the joy Michelle derived from her weekly riding session was priceless, but the medical and emotional benefits were just as encouraging.

"Michelle runs up the ramp, gets on the horse and just loves it so much, you just have to see her face," he told WA Business News.

"These rides do so much for these kids, it's such a shame the association has such a low profile, it could do so much more."

Although RDA was established in Australia in 1964, the charity didn't expand into WA until 1974.

The state branches are incorporated individually as associations and operate autonomously, however the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia, based in Victoria, is a company limited by guarantee, incorporated nationally.

The association's WA executive officer, Kelly Mansfield, said RDA was strained by a lack of public awareness and minimal corporate support.

"It's such a worthwhile cause and the effects of the rides have been clinically proven to benefit people with disabilities," she said.

"We see riders develop muscle tone, improve their hand-eye coordination, achieve better balance and they benefit on an emotional and social level.

"But although we've been around since 1974 and have 17 centres, we don't have much in the way of corporate sponsorships."

When eight-year-old Sophie Merilainen began attending RDAWA rides five years ago, she couldn't walk without a frame and had difficulty supporting herself.

After going to RDA riding sessions each week for five years and only missing four sessions, due to doctors' appointments, Sophie now walks unaided.

Ms Mansfield said with success stories such as Sophie's common among RDA ranks, WA businesses had a rare opportunity to be a part of something great.

She called on WA businesses to become involved and help the cash-strapped organisation continue its charity work throughout the state.

"It's a very labour-intensive operation that takes up a lot of time and a lot of hard work," Ms Mansfield said.

"But the therapeutic benefits of recreational equestrian activities make it so worthwhile."


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