Two wheels to four legs


May 25, 2012

In the Swan Valley there is a centre run by volunteers who use horses to improve the lives of disabled people.

The Riding for the Disabled Association is a not-for-profit group that uses therapeutic equestrian activities to treat people with disabilities and special needs.

With 20 centres in Western Australia, the association relies mainly on volunteers to assist in its activities.

Swan Valley RDA president Jan Pavlinovich has been involved with the centre for 24 years and says there is a sense of community and understanding.

“If someone is going through a tough time, everyone is here for them,” Ms Pavlinovich said.

Jamie-Lee Brenton is deaf and started riding at the Swan Valley RDA in 2007 where she now volunteers.

Ms Brenton says she enjoys helping the children and how RDA “makes kids happy and feel confident”.

RDA programs include hippotherapy, which is the use of a horse’s rhythmic, three-dimensional movement to develop postural control, balance, co-ordination and special orientation.

A physiotherapist or occupational therapist with specialised training in horse handling must carry out the therapy, which can have psychological, speech, language and cognitive benefits.

Ms Pavlinovich said the therapy could improve a rider’s overall attitude and outlook.

“It gives them confidence, having four legs under them to carry them where they want to go,” she said.

“We open a door and let a bit of light in, to give them an opportunity to ride.”

Ms Pavlinovich said some riders would first come to the centre and not want to participate.

She said this changed when the riders were out of their wheelchairs or frames and on their horses.

Equine Psychotherapy Australia psychotherapist Meg Kirby takes a different approach to the use of horses in therapy.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy uses horses in the treatment of psychological issues including emotional and mental health conditions.

“RDA and hippotherapy are wonderful fields of practice, but have a very different focus, skill base and learning goals,” Ms Kirby said.

“The presence of horses helps to interest and engage clients in therapy.

“Effects are seen immediately in engagement, awareness and experimenting with something new.

“However, clients relate to these experiences with horses uniquely and therapeutic benefit is individual.”

Both therapies require qualified professionals to facilitate the treatment and Ms Kirby said the outcome could depend on the skill of the practitioner.

“Practitioners can support awareness and empowerment, but unfortunately untrained or inexperienced practitioners can impede awareness and empowerment,” she said.

RDA riding coaches are qualified under the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme.

The Swan Valley RDA centre is located at St Leonard’s, a private property, so it is not eligible for government funding.

Ms Pavlinovich said the group’s funding came from sponsors and donations from groups such as Movies By Burswood, which helped maintain the centre.

Riders do not pay fees to attend the centre although they must have insurance, which Ms Pavlinovich said could now be paid for by the government.

KidSport is a government program that provides up to $200 a year for eligible children aged five to 18 toward sporting clubs fees.

Photos: Carrie Burns

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