Digswell Place RDA is 'like a little family', say adoring parents
PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 July 2018
©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved
As you head towards the stables of Digswell Place Group Riding for the Disabled, tucked away off the B197, you can't help but be impressed by the idyllic setting.
The area is surrounded by trees, horses are grazing in the nearby field, and the sound of clattering hooves interlaced with giggling echoes in the distance.
By the main ring, stable manager Sue Jenkins oversees proceedings. She has been running the show, which involves providing horse rides to children and adults with disabilities, for approaching 50 years.
While explaining why she started, a mum shouted “she’s amazing” from across the site, as her young child gazed adoringly at the steed he was about to mount.
Sue, blushing slightly, continued: “I thought it would be really nice to share something you enjoy with people that do not usually get the opportunity.
“I get to play with ponies, meet lots of wonderful and interesting people, live in beautiful surroundings – what more could you want.”
About 140 people are enrolled to ride with Digswell Place RDA – with an age range of two to 65 – and around 80 saddle up each week.
For the last six years, Lauren Milner and her 10-year-old son have been helped by the charity, which she described as “like a little family”.
“It’s just a brilliant place to come,” she said. “Sam has been coming since he was about four and it’s just been amazing for his posture and core control.
“When he fist started he couldn’t even sit up, but after about a month he started sitting up and now we just hold his ankles.
“It’s lovely to do something with him that gets him active and not just in his chair. He really loves it.”
Rebecca Bristow, whose 12-year-old son Ryan regularly uses the facility, said: “It’s all he talks about all day – he loves it. He’s got an interest he can talk about with people.
“He doesn’t go to the cinema, play football or cricket, or do what other 12-year-olds can do physically and mentally, but this is his hobby which he enjoys.”
She added that the riding school also acts as “fun physio”, as it has hugely improved Ryan’s posture while adding an invaluable social element to his life.
“He loves coming and seeing his friends here,” Rebecca continued. “Linda the instructor, all the helpers – it is the social aspect that he wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Digswell Place currently has between 100 and 120 volunteers each week, with roles involving getting ponies ready for lessons, grooming, leading and supporting a rider.
There is also stable work such as general maintenance, painting and fence fixing.
Kathy Burrows, who has been offering her time for two years, said she thought it would be a nice thing to try after she retired.
“Now I work with the horses and I love it,” she said. “I suppose it’s something I was never able to do early on in life and they are a pleasure to work with.”
Another volunteer John Roberts, who has been there for five years, added: “I like walking with the horses, feeling I’m doing something for the kids, and I like the people.
“It’s also fun to come up here with the grass and the trees.”
The challenge of managing occasionally stubborn steeds also proves enjoyable, he said.
There are currently 14 horses on site, ranging in age from six to 30, and Sue often trawls through websites searching for those that would be suitable.
She added that they are like “naughty school children” and play-up with time-wasting tactics – the most popular of which is spontaneously going to the toilet.
“They are like humans or dogs really,” Sue said with a grin. “They are individuals. Some have always been really well behaved and are desperate to please you, while others are a little cheeky.”
However, despite the blissful surroundings, Digswell Place is in desperate need of more volunteers and fundraisers. The charity needs to garner about £50k annually to keep going without expansion.
Being the mayor’s chosen charity this year helps, as do donations such as the money raised last month by long-standing supporter Cllr Terry Mitchinson. But, like with most charities, volunteers are Digswell Place’s bedrock.
No experience is needed, just “a willingness to learn and get stuck in”, Sue said.
For more information about the charity visit: https://www.digswellplacerda.org.uk/ or call 01707 332 159.