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Barrie - a volunteer's story

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Meet Barrie Dixon who is both a key member of our NW Regional team and a Trustee of Mid Cheshire RDA. Barrie received the President’s Award, last year, in recognition of his outstanding long service with RDA. Here Barrie talks about his RDA volunteering journey:

“Apart from the occasional donkey ride on Rhyl beach, prior to 1985 my only connection with the equine world was looking at horses in a field and watching the Grand National on TV. One day, back in the ’80s, my wife, Jeanette, saw an advert in the Manchester Evening News, offering cut price “trial” riding lessons, and signed up.

Jeanette took her riding as far as she could with the local riding school, until her disabilities stopped her progressing further. And then, in Horse and Hound, there was an article about RDA: Jeanette wrote to them, was recommended to contact the Birtle based group. Everything went to plan and Jeanette learned so much more about riding than in the AB lessons she’d been having. We have Barbara Hedley to thank for that, of course.

We were on the yard one day, waiting for Jeanette’s session, and someone said to me “could you just hold this?”, handing me a rope. I took hold, looked round and there was a horse on the end of it. That’s where it all started! Not long after, I was helping riders to mount, leading, side walking and so much stuff that I’ve probably forgotten more than I care to remember. Things were less formal in those days. This was where my volunteering role started, that and being invited onto a group committee


As Jeanette improved with her riding abilities, we moved on to different centres, arriving at Mid Cheshire Riding for the Disabled, then based at Mobberley Riding School, in the mid ‘90s. My assisting Jeanette continued but with the added bonus of assisting other riders in a number of different ways. My skills in PR were also brought further to the fore, having already been interviewed for radio and television several times over the years. I have never been afraid to talk to our riders or their supporters and I do feel that that has always been appreciated by everyone. It's been part of my role to welcome new people into our charity and make them feel comfortable and part of our 'family'. For me meeting so many new and diverse people is one of the best parts of volunteering.

My “showbiz” roots have also helped when I have been needed in front of the mic, as has my love for photography. Just for the record, I’ve been taking photos since I was three, maybe four years old: I’m a bit better at it now than I was then! So being asked to take photos at a regional event has also become part of my role.

At Mid Cheshire I became a Trustee of the Charity and have helped with planning and the overall growth of our Charity. As Jeanette became deeply involved in the dressage world I have followed and became involved in organising regional dressage training, attending numerous meetings at regional and national level, which as a non-horserider I have found both challenging and enjoyable.

In 2021 I was delighted to be nominated by the region for the President's Award for my volunteering at both local and regional level and to receive the award from HRH The Princess Royal was certainly a highlight.

Being a volunteer has certainly had a big impact on my life, I would not have thought it would lead to being involved for almost 40 years, let alone owning our own horse.

I think that whatever skills you have, there’s always a place somewhere out of your environment that can be used for “the greater good”, as it were.” 

Janet - a volunteer's story


Meet our Cheshire County Chair, Janet Simpson, who tells you more about her experience of volunteering with RDA.  This year Janet has been awarded the President’s Award: 


“I started volunteering over 30 years ago at Prestbury (now Middlewood) RDA.  I have always enjoyed anything horse related, be it riding, caring, or trying to understand them, so I soon got hooked.  Over time I served on the committee, became Chair, helped organise the annual riding holidays at Clwyd, as well as fundraising.  I still regularly meet up with my good friends from Middlewood. 


I transferred to Mid Cheshire after a change in my job, and a house move.  I really wasn't going to get involved as much, but I'd known Pam Rigby for years and she can be very persuasive.....Once Mid Cheshire relocated to New Barn I was swept away in a whirl of fundraising and helping on the yard, becoming a committee member and trustee.  Soon I was 'nudged' into coaching, and I became a UKCC level 2 coach.  


The group takes part in the annual NW Regional Show and I was volunteering for Mid Cheshire when they hosted the show at, New Barn.  It was really hard work, but RDA volunteers are fantastic, giving so much of their time and often finding skills they didn't know they had. I know I did!


Mid Cheshire have had great success with their riders at the National Championships.  But for me, it's the giggles and little achievements seen in the regular lessons that mean so much. 


I now serve on the Regional Committee as Cheshire County Chair and helping new groups in the region to get started. 


This year I am surprised and honoured to receive the President's Award.  I feel it is not only an award for me personally, but for my RDA friends and all our kind, willing volunteers. Without them working behind the scenes, I would not have achieved all I that have. 


In the photo is Pam Rigby's lovely Bella, who I am lucky enough to ride.”

Jeanette - a volunteer and rider's story

Jeanette and Link in school

"I started in RDA as a rider with the wonderful Barbara Hedley 37 years ago.  I was so amazed at how kind people were that I wanted to be involved so I joined the committee.  Since then Barrie and I have been on the committees at other groups where I rode but we have been with Pam Rigby for at least the last 20 years.  Pam asked me if I'd be interesting in helping as the Secretary was leaving and I've been 'it' ever since. 


I've been given such great opportunities that I wanted other riders to have the same great experience.  I developed a great interest in dressage and I trained to become a British Dressage listed judge so that I at least had some idea of what I was talking about.  Our region was the first to organise dressage training for our riders so naturally I had to be involved, that was 25 years ago. 


In the days when our riders weren't a prominent feature in RDA committees I'll be the first to admit that I didn't make myself popular on the national committee's meetings but I was there to argue for our riders and that's what I did and I'd like to think that there was a positive move forward in how things are now done, though there's always room for change. 


I've made some great friends along the way and had great support when I've worked through all those proficiency tests (because I can't expect others to do them if I don't).  I moved into coaching with RDA when it wasn't quite recognised that our riders could also be coaches and I've had great support through my coaching qualifications. I volunteer with Mid Cheshire & the regional committee because I want our riders to have the best experience they can have, our volunteers are wonderful, I love being with the horses and I like cake which always seems to be a feature!"

Lisa - a volunteer's story

Lisa and Storm in field

Lisa was formerly our County Chair for Cheshire, in the North West RDA Region, and a valued member of our RDA North West Committee, before retiring from the role.  Here is Lisa's story told during her time on the Regional Committee:

Lisa has been a keen horse rider since she was able to walk and has been fortunate to either own or have access to horses for most of her life. She has been aware of the work of Riding for the Disabled for many years and 10 years ago, once her career as a medical secretary and family commitments allowed, she joined her local Foresters' Horn group on the Wirral as a volunteer.

Lisa became County Chair for Merseyside 6 years ago and then recently became Co-Chair for Cheshire.  She regularly visits the various groups in the county to give support and encouragement where needed, a role she thoroughly enjoys, and delights at being able to help in such a worthy cause. She has also enjoyed the opportunity to take part in Regional and National events and conferences where she has been able to add her voice to the development of this incredibly successful and worthy charity.


Lisa says she has learned new skills and met many inspirational people over her time as County Chair and looks forward to many more years helping in any way she can.

Glenny - a volunteer's story

Glenny smiling and reading a book

Glenny stood down from County Chair for Cheshire in 2021 having served her 9 years and is still a key member of our RDA North West Committee.  Glenny has been volunteering with the RDA for nearly 33 years.  In July 2019 at Hartpury she received the President’s Award presented by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne.

Glenny started volunteering with Wirral and Chester RDA Group at Foxes Riding School in the Wirral.  She explained that she got involved, not because of a love of or experience of horses, but for exercise and at the time she “thought it would be easy to walk and dangle a horse at the end of a piece of string...!”.  She started just helping for one afternoon a week and quickly became aware that there was more to leading a horse and to volunteering!

Glenny’s involvement with RDA has escalated through the years and she was Chairman of the Wirral and Chester Group for 10 years.  The Group is one of the largest in the Region.


Glenny gives many hours of her time a week to RDA but clearly loves her role.  She says she finds being around the horses has a calming effect on you but also it really makes you realise just how lucky you are.

Matthew - a rider's story

Matthew riding piebald horse being led by lady in red coat

Matthew, from Pegasus RDA Group, is 15 years old and suffers from Benign Hereditary Chorea, which affects his co-ordination, and associated chronic lung disease.

Matthew started riding with the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust (now The Donkey Sanctuary) when he was 2, to help with his core strength and balance.  After some time off he returned to riding when he was 11 years old, with Greater Manchester RDA Group and then more recently Pegasus Group. 

It is clear to anyone watching Matthew ride that he really enjoys it.  In 2017 he was awarded second place in the RDA North West Region’s Anne Thorpe Trophy, for his achievements.  

Matthew’s mum explains that “Matthew loves a challenge and riding has increased his strength and stamina.  It has given him a sense of achievement.  He is very competitive and enjoys the Countryside Challenge”.

Matthew competed in the Regional Show in 2015, shortly after he started riding with GMRDA, coming 5th in the led Countryside Challenge.   Matthew has recently attended the RDA North West Region’s Riding Holiday, in Clwyd.  Unfortunately, he is not riding at the Regional Show this year. However, even though he isn’t able to take part, he will be watching and supporting newly made friends from his recent riding holiday! 


We look forward to seeing Matthew at other events, within the Region, in the future.  

Karen - a rider's story

Karen riding Blaze in a presentation.  Karen has blue rosette and Blaze a green sash.

Karen has been horse riding since an early age.  After taking a break from the saddle she got back into it, after a close family bereavement, and found horses to be a wonderful therapy that gave an alternative focus. 

One day Karen was riding her neighbour’s horse when she suffered a stroke that resulted in her losing the use of her right arm and leg.  She was told that she may never ride again.

Karen was not to be defeated and after two years off, and intensive rehabilitation, not only has she returned to riding but she has also trained her own young horse who is now 6 years old.  Karen acknowledges this is quite an achievement as this is something she would never have thought of doing as an able-bodied rider let alone as a newly disabled rider.

Karen first became involved in the RDA about a year ago when, after reading a copy of the RDA magazine, she joined Pendle Group where she met our Regional Coach Kate Bailey.  She was really surprised by how big and professional RDA is.

Karen attended the RDA Regional show last year and competed in the dressage, having never had an interest in dressage before, qualifying for the RDA National Championships.  This year Karen has attended our Regional Riding Holiday, at Clwyd, and has recently qualified for the SEIB Search 4 A Star RDA Showing Championship.  We very much look forward to seeing her at the Regional Show where she hopes to compete in the Countryside Challenge as well as the dressage.  

Stirling - a rider's Story

Stirling riding horse in school smiling at camera

Stirling was 55 when he began horse riding. He was a sergeant in the RAF and a Falklands veteran. He suffered brain damage in 1987 and is reliant on his wife Jane, who is his carer, to help him enjoy life.

Now he looks forward to Thursdays.

Thursday (written by Jane)

When I came to Midgeland group I was down and feeling blue,

I needed something that I enjoyed and I could do,

My sight is poor, my memory rubbish and I neglect my left hand side,

Then I tried a horse and found that I could ride,

With an understanding instructor and a team of people there,

They remember my name, they praise me and make me feel ok,

They help me out, I’ve had such fun I feel I’ve learnt so much,

I’ve had my turn on RADAR and met new people on the way,

But it’s the hard working horses who help to make my day,

Now I look forward to Thursday in a very different way.

A mother's story...

Daniel riding a bay horse in school.

Thank you RDA - written by Daniel's mother, Karen


In March my family and I attended the RDA event at Robinsons. This was the first time we had been to an RDA event and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We were made to feel very welcome and heard some truly inspirational stories. My own son, Daniel, had prepared a talk about what horse riding means to him and his plans for the future. Show jumping was one of them – (aim high son). His other aim was to canter independently. I could not have been prouder when last Tuesday during his riding lesson he cantered on his own for the first time. He came over to me in the gallery all smiles “mission complete” he said. So thank you to all the team at Midgeland for making his mission complete.

This is the main reason I wrote this piece to say thank you to RDA for giving Daniel and people like him, who don’t always find life as easy and straight forward as others, a chance to try a new challenge, overcome some of those hurdles (not literally) and be as independent as possible, to have some fun and meet new people and be part of something very special.


Yvonne - a volunteer's story

RDA logo "It's what you can do that counts"

"It has been many years since I was a regular rider - a view from the saddle! Now, as a volunteer with RDA, I have been able to renew my interest in horses and, occasionally, I get to ride.

Recently, our annual Picnic Ride took place. One rider didn’t arrive. His mount, Cobber, was ready, so I was offered a ride. This was riding in the real world, not the indoor school.

Cobber is a big horse. I felt a long way up from the ground. Even the leader seemed a long way down from me. As we set off in the line I was conscious of avoiding getting too close to the horse ahead. I was enjoying viewing familiar surroundings from a new level. The rhythm of Cobber’s gait was regular and smooth and I relaxed.

Leaving the Wirral Way, the road was less flat and seemed slippery beneath Cobber’s hooves. First, we went slightly uphill and then down. Cobber’s stride changed. Should I lean forward, backward or stay straight? Fortunately, the view across the estuary caught my attention and I relaxed again. I frequently walk down this lane, but the view from up there on Cobber was so different!

This riding experience was wonderful. Knowing I had the support of a leader gave me confidence."

Paul Maynard - a rider's story

Head shot of Paul Maynard

The MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys recalls his childhood experiences at Camsley Grange RDA Group

"One of the pleasures of being elected a Member of Parliament was the large number of cards, letters and emails congratulating me. None more pleasurable than the two surprise emails I had from Jean Evans and Kate Fox – two people I remembered exceedingly well from my days doing Riding for the Disabled at Camsley Grange. 


Nestled beneath the dull roar of the Thelwall Viaduct, I would happily ride round on horses like Nutty and Secret, with half an eye spotting foreign lorries and the other half trying to perfect my ‘serpentine’ manoeuvre in dressage practice. Riding a pony gave me self-confidence, and taught me the virtue of patience, as well as the need to be determined to achieve. As we know, ponies very often have minds of their own. I recall one pony bolting with me on it, and the team crying at me to ‘sit deep’ as I panicked! It taught me that some things require dedication and effort, and it taught me that there were people in this world willing to give up their time to help others out of their own free will. Maybe that early, and continuous, exposure to the concept of public service was one reason I ended up in ‘politics’.  

Put bluntly, Riding for the Disabled was my only real ‘sporting’ outlet. With mild cerebral palsy, I was never going to be in the first eleven at school. Over and above the ‘competitive’ element, riding provided much needed muscle-stretching physiotherapy. 

For a large part of my teenage years, it was the only physio I got, as I had somehow managed to drop out of the system. But the ‘competitive’ element wasn’t about teaching me I could win things, so much as teach me that life was about winning and losing. I did well enough one year to win the regional dressage competition, which meant I qualified for the national championships. With limited practice time, it was probably not surprising I came last and next-to-last in both my classes. But I learnt an important lesson – that losing is not the ‘be all and end all’ of existence. Many readers will probably realise that was a particularly useful lesson to have learnt when campaigning for the Conservatives during our long years in Opposition!

Of course, all good things had to come to an end. An ambitious schedule of 5 A-Levels meant something had to give, and the 25-mile round trip to Lymm just couldn’t be fitted into a busy academic schedule.

But a lot of what I learnt remains. When I arrived in Westminster, many of the issues I have involved myself with stem from my RDA experiences. 

I’m Vice-Chair of the All-Party Group on Paediatric Mobility which is conducting an enquiry into wheelchair services for children, for example. I well remember how many of the boys I did riding with had Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and how they and their dedicated parents relied on high-quality wheelchairs. Even now, some 20 years on, wheelchair provision remains inadequate. 

It was a particular joy to meet up again with Kate Fox the other week at the All-Party Muscular Dystrophy Group. We recognised each other immediately – and neither of us had changed a bit.  

Riding round an all-weather arena every week in my childhood may have meant going round in circles – a bit like being MP, it sometimes feels – but it gave me skills, and taught me lessons that remain with me to this day."  

Jenny - a rider's story

Photo of Sheila handing score sheet to Jenny.  Sheila wearing pink gillet and Jenny a black jacket.

Jenny from Liverpool and her parents, Pat and George, share their thoughts about RDA.

Jenny writes... "I like to go to riding early so that I can help brush and clean Ringo’s hooves and prepare his tack. It is difficult to do it on my own because Ringo is so big, but I try hard to do as much as I can. One of the horse owners is teaching me how to massage Ringo. I love the way he stops doing things, even eating, when I massage him. I talk to Ringo a lot and although he can be stubborn when I ride him, I think we work well together. Like me, Ringo has arthritis so I understand how he feels when the helpers tell me he is stiff today. I want to continue improving my riding skills and would like to build up confidence so I would be happy riding other horses."


Pat & George write... "Jenny first sat on a horse at the age of 3 years whilst on holiday, and very soon after she was fortunate enough to get a place at Crosby RDA. Whilst there would be future obstacles, her joy and love for horse riding was evident from the start. Early memories evolve around a ‘tiny mite’ with a big smile on the back of a pony with a leader and two helpers, enjoying every minute and being impatient to get back on once the ride was over.


As Jenny progressed, the patience of the instructors and helpers was wonderful – when she was introduced to trotting, everyone would be shouting out to her to ‘breathe’ as she passed by, for she seemed to do the trot without taking a breath.

Another obstacle was mounting, due to a fear of heights, but this was overcome with tolerance, perseverance and encouragement from the helpers.

Small stature and chronic juvenile arthritis have not deterred Jenny from developing riding skills, or from becoming involved in stable management of the ponies. She loves to get down early for the ride so she can help groom and tack up, which helps develop a greater bond between her and Ringo.

Jenny has also been fortunate in being selected to attend the holidays in Clwyd, and on these she has developed independence and social skills, and enjoyed being part of the team. It has also given her an introduction to different horses.

In recent years Jenny has progressed to the Crosby Advanced Riders’ Class which in turn has opened an opportunity for her to join the NW Dressage Squad. Jenny has won Regional Competitions and qualified on a number of occasions for the RDA National Championships, her best placing so far being 5th.

There is no doubt that becoming involved with Crosby RDA has been a life-changing experience for Jenny and ourselves. It is not a pastime or hobby, but an essential part of our lives. The people, the events, functions and horse riding activities form a part of our lives which would be hard-put to replace, probably impossible.

Hard work, dedication and commitment has seen the Group grow from strength to strength, from the initial rides in an open field to what we have now, not only an outside arena but a wonderful indoor school – the envy of any group. In addition the people are exceptional, young and old alike, and we look upon it more like a family rather than a riding group."

Theo - a rider's story

Theo riding a grey horse walking through jump wings and gate with a volunteer.  Judge watching.

"When I was two I was diagnosed with ataxic diplegic cerebral palsy. This means that my brain doesn't tell my legs how to work properly so I have difficulty walking.

One day Issac's Mum told my Mum about Mid Cheshire Riding for the Disabled. Mum had been looking for a place for me for ages. She was very excited when I got a place. I had been poorly since I stopped riding and had to have Botox again.

I was very stiff at first and a bit nervous. I had a lovely teacher called Judy and I soon got used to being on a horse again. It is really good for my legs. I ride a lovely pony called Pip.

Then I had a new teacher called Pam. I was a bit scared of her at first. One day Pam asked me if I would like to take part in a competition. I had to ride a different pony called William as Pip doesn't like going far in the horsebox. I took part in the North West countryside challenge in 2012 and I won first place! William and I then rode at the Nationals at Gloucester and came 6th.

In 2013 William and I won the North West countryside challenge again and came 6th again at the Nationals!

This year William and I won the North West countryside challenge again. We went to Gloucester on a very wet and windy day. When I arrived I found out that my William had hurt his leg on the journey down and the vet would not let him ride. I was very sad. We had some other ponies with us but I had never ridden any of them before. My friend Janet said I could ride any of the other ponies. I chose to ride Ted. He is much bigger than Wills!

We went to have our tack checked and then over to the field where the competition was taking place. It poured and poured with rain. There was thunder and lightning and the competition was stopped for a bit as the horses were so upset. Some of the horses were too scared to take part. Then it was my turn. Ted was very brave and rode the course very well. Janet and I were very wet. When we finished we had to lend Ted to another rider as their horse didn't like the weather.

Eventually at teatime the scores came in. Ted and I had only come in 4th place! What a result!

I could only achieve this with all my fantastic friends at Mid Cheshire who give up their time to help kids and grown-ups like me. Thank you to you all, you're the best! "

Update: In 2015 Theo won the regional championship again and went to Gloucester to the national championships. He was confident enough to ride a completely strange borrowed horse and did a fantastic job and came 3rd.

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