The thrill of riding horses is providing physical and social therapy for many disabled people in Leeds.
People with a range of difficulties are being helped by the two Riding for The Disabled Association (RDA) centres in the city.
Middleton Park Equestrian Centre, Riding For The Disabled in South Leeds and Leeds Area RDA in Bardsey are supporting youngsters and adults alike with issues like core strength and confidence.
Wenda Fletcher, of Leeds Area RDA on Wike Lane said: “The therapy is really successful. I’ve seen quite a few people helped from about the age of four. Sometimes they start riding on donkeys. Then they come on and get on a pony. It’s amazing. It helps with their core strength, balance and confidence.
“It is also about interactions and mixing with lots of different people. My daughter, Joanne Watson, is one of the riders. She’s an adult now.”
Mrs Fletcher said the groups of adult and young riders get along well, adding: “It’s all big hugs when they all meet up. It’s lovely.”
It’s a similar story at Middleton Park, which also comes under the RDA umbrella.
Lisa Waterworth, whose son Theo has been going there for about two years, said the change in him was “immeasurable”.
She added: “RDA Middleton Park and their staff have a unique understanding of the difficulties that children with disabilities face and enable them to conquer any fears that they may have and turn them into a positive experience to show them anything is possible.
“RDA from my perspective is not just about the riding, it’s the social interaction learning new skills and learning to be more independent.
”Middleton Park have been central to Theo’s improvement and I look forward to continuing this journey with them.”
Anna Burke, centre manager of the equestrian school near the John Charles Centre for Sport, said they help anyone from the age of two upwards.
She said they see people with disabilities, autism, behavioural issues and those with mental health issues.
Mrs Burke added: “We have got a lot of children who are on the autistic spectrum and don’t like to be enclosed in the indoor arenas. They like to be outdoors. We take the riders into the woods in Middleton Park. As soon as we get into the woods they enjoy it and relax.”
“Some clients do like to come and groom the horses. Anybody suffering form mental health problems, they relate better to the horses. There’s a calmness around them.”
Middleton Park also has volunteering opportunities, which can help people with confidence issues too.
Mrs Burke added: “We had a student who was really shy and couldn’t talk. She’s totally different since coming to volunteer and ride. Her confidence has grown so much.”
Volunteering is also strong at Leeds Area RDA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Mrs Fletcher first became involved as a parent around 20 years ago. She came to help with the move to Bardsey from its old site in Bramley Gardens in Whinmoor. But Mrs Fletcher ended up becoming its chairman and is now the group’s secretary.
She was also on hand to show the RDA’s president, the Princess Royal, around their new home in 2013. Mrs Fletcher said: “The Princess Royal thought it was lovely. She met a lot of riders and parents and carers. It was a really good visit. She was so nice and interested.”