Hutt Valley Riding for The Disabled


Disabled is the term that we use. But when we talk about riding and new programs here, we talk about their abilities and strengths rather than what they can’t do. Okay. What wakes you up and come here every day and what’s driving you to come here every day? The satisfaction and the achievement that you see on the rider’s face again, of course, the horses, because you know that’s your horse mage. Always horse mage, but it really is around the achievement that the riders make.


Tell me about the programmes that you have here. So we have three programs which are run throughout New Zealand. We have therapy program, sports and rec program, and our educational program. Each one has a different outcome. Everyone has different expectations. Our therapy program is more around our high needs riders, so they might have more than one need. So they may be their goals or their aspirations or their achievements may be physical. So maybe if they’re in a wheelchair, sitting them up on the horse or lying and prone over or some form of specific physical activity.


It’s quite a socially based program. So it’s around numerous electricity. It’s around the social connections that you make with the other riders and the volunteers. It’s not about horse riding. It’s about learning on horseback. And then our sport and recreation program is around. That’s our competitor. That’s our learning how to ride program.


So we teach you how to hold the reins, how to walk to and counter. There is a component of Special Olympics on there. So we have a memorandum of understanding and an association with Special Olympics New Zealand. And we’re able to run the equestrian program for the Wellington Group and they train towards every four years attending the National Summer Games. How do we assess I have a child or a son who I wanted to join the program. How do we assess that?


So we receive a referral form from you and that gives us some basic information on age. The disability. Yes, we talk about the disability because that gives us an understanding of what we can potentially expect. Once we have a space available, we will meet with the rider and the caregiver and we will have a lot and we’ll chat about them, chat to them about what they want to do. What can you do? We’ll get them to do a couple of activities, maybe roll the dice. Can you count the numbers?


What colors have you got? So when I say test, we will assess what they can do. And then they’ll be on a program with riders that are trying to achieve the same things that they are. So do you have like, testing the waters kind of thing? Of course, not everyone is fit for riding. And then do we do like let’s test it first if it’s going to work for the child or if the child will have a connection.


So part of our assessment is we do pop them on a horse and have a look at them on a horse, and then we gauge their feelings for it by how ruthless they are or how excited or are they nervous? They really don’t want to do it. Then we can make an assessment after that as to what exactly we’re going to do with them in the riding. Do we have in terms of how many kids do we have at the moment? So we ride per school term. So we ride four terms a year, and we put through 120 riders a week, and that’s for the ten weeks.


They are supported by 55 volunteers across that week. In terms of the volunteer, I heard about the volunteers, so you did mention about them. Do we train them? Yes. So all volunteers, most volunteers will make contact with us first, either by email or phone or call in or website. Then they go through an induction period. They need to do an online induction, which is about two and a half hours. Fill out some paperwork for the volunteer agreement and do a police check. And then we bring them in and we tend to buddy them up with other experienced volunteers just so they get a feel for how it works, all that kind of stuff, where you put your staff, how riding, how much. That’s all the stuff you need to support the rider.


Do you have a number of hours of training that they need to have in order for them to start doing the support to the kids on their own? We just gauge that by how quickly they feel comfortable in that situation. Most volunteers, after potentially one or two sessions, are pretty okay with, yeah, I can do this by myself. They’re well supported by our three coaches. So we’ve got a senior coach and two assistant coaches. They’re on the ground in the right. They are responsible for ensuring, among other things, ensuring that the volunteers are comfortable doing it.


And it may be that there’s some challenging behavior. So being able to educate the volunteer on what that means for that rider, it might be you don’t engage eye contact. Maybe that you ask them two or three things and that’s it. Maybe that they have to choose something or you give them an option. So there’s a variety of ways to assist the writer. Tell me about that NZQA qualification. So can anyone just go here and apply to be a volunteer? Anyone can volunteer here and anyone can apply to undergo the training. It is run by the AITO no, sorry, the primary ITO, which is supported by NZRDA. So they’re the ones that administer the workbook and the answers, and they provide the mentors and assessors that kind of thing.


You do need to be affiliated to a group because, of course, we’ve got to pay for that, but they do get any kind of stuff. But at the end of it. Susan is just starting on it  so that would be really good. So how long does it take for her to finish? They say. of the top of my head. I don’t know how many credits it is. But I think we allow that a year. Mostly because generally the ones that are the people that are going through this stuff. That are already employed as coach. And once you’ve done your coaching and your horse manager stuff.


There’s sometimes not a lot of days left. Hours left on the day to do some training. But yes, they’re breaking down. Like all qualifications broken down into modules. You mentioned NZQA. Yes, they administer, they own the unit standard, which is what the certificates made up of, I’m going to say 15 unit standards and the level three, and.


Most of them are like placement activities. It’s not like written exam going to class. No, it’s not. There is, of course, written in oral and practical components to all of them. So you do have to sit down, do the written stuff, but it’s not like you go to a class, it’s not like you’re doing your trade cert. And you got to do a six week block course at Polytech, whatever it is.


most of it’s on the job. On the job. And then after they’ve finished that, they can do the work. Out in the right area while they’re doing the certificate as well. It’s just a nice nother feather in the bow. I think from looking outside, looking in, if you see that someone is qualified, you’re going to have a little bit more faith in the experience and the safety in set.


But it wasn’t before, but you know what I mean, looking outside and potentially as a parent, I suspect as a parent, you would feel a lot more comfortable knowing that actually there is some training behind this. And I can see that training because the certificates are on the wall. Is this recognised?


Absolutely. They can go anywhere. They absolutely can use. I didn’t want to work at Hutt Valley and they moved to Auckland. They could easily take that with them and say, oh, my level three coach and most RDA groups would go, brilliant, we’re starting tomorrow. That’s great. So how do you handle, of course, if you are, let’s say, for an autistic child, once they get acquainted with the horse and they already have these routines yes.


And then in terms of the volunteers, if they are also acquainted with the volunteer and they don’t want to change the person assisting them, how do you handle that? We do take quite a bit of guidance from the rider’s main caregiver, often parents. We try to be as organized as possible. So, for example, if we have Jane Doe on a Tuesday, and she’s been here every Tuesday, but this particular day, she can’t be with us. We always try to ring the parent in time and help they will help us say, you got something different today. How exciting is that?


We do absolutely appreciate that. Sometimes change and change of routine is really hard for the autistic spectrum. Then it is really hard to set that change. So we try to make it as easy as possible. I know we had a bit of a discussion in terms of the requirements of the program. Do we need someone to refer? Let’s say I’m interested about it. Do we need someone from the school to refer the child, or I can just refer my child?


Both. And we have doctors and we have district health boards. There’s a lot of support in the district health board area, so we get lots of referrals. But it’s important that we receive a referral. And then once we’ve done, as we talked about, we look at the assessment when we’ve got a space. We also need a rider participation form, and that’s around privacy and information. This is what we’ll do for you.


This is what we expect from you as the rider. And then we also need a medical certificate from the doctor so that’s more around if the condition that you have said it’s okay, to ride, there are a very few that you won’t be able to ride with, but the doctor says you’re okay to ride. And then from a coach perspective, the doctor will also list the medications we need to be aware of that might change their behavior if the medication is not working, make them sleepy, that kind of stuff. And then also tells us what the disability is.


Again, not that we need to work around that so we know what the. strengths are there. In your view, how effective it is for maybe someone who has an autism or maybe other disabilities as well. When I first started in 1983, we were mostly looking at cerebral palsy, down syndrome, so a lot of physical neurological conditions over the years that’s changed and looking at our stats, and pretty much most of our writers are on the autistic spectrum, on some form of spectrum.


So we’ve had to adapt our riding program. 1983, you could have four riders that, had spina bifida, for example, and your outcomes or your expected outcomes in the way that you coached would be very similar. We’ve had to change now so that it’s very individual, because everyone on the spectrum is very different. And there’s varying degrees of some are nonverbal, some are highly functioning, so you need to be able to identify what the best strength is.


I find a lot of our in common with people on the spectrum of the social skills, and that’s why the majority of them are in our education program, because it’s not about learning to ride a horse, for example. It’s using riding skills to loom your left and right. So if you teach them how to hold the reins and left rein is turn left, right so even though they’re holding the reins, they’re not actually controlling the horse. We use lots of colours, lots of let’s match them up.


We use lots of core strength, helps them set up at the table, for example, when they go home. So we try to look at a lot of the social impact that the riding has. We call them life changing experiences because they can be quite life changing. It’s not offered anywhere else. Do you know what I mean? It’s not like there’s four of us in the Huttt Valley and you get to choose which one you want. It’s a different kind of experience, especially for me.


The last time we had a catch-up, I read the book about the horse boy, and then it’s like a different experience. Especially not everyone has a horse and they can have a horse. You know what I mean, it’s not really something that you can really have. It’s not like having a bike. You can’t just have a horse in the backyard because there is a whole lot of other stuff around that. And then that’s why it’s a little different in terms of experience. And maybe that’s something special for the kids. Yeah, definitely.


And there’s certainly lots of examples of our riders who have brothers or sisters that have no disability. They’ve got off riding a bike. And there’s certainly evidence that riding a horse means that they can then partake in that kind of family activity so that they can then be this is going to sound terrible, normal, do you know what I mean? So that they can do all normal activities, that kind of thing. How are the kids doing so far?


What’s their experience when they come in, inside the facility? Perhaps sometimes some kids may have a bad mood at that. They do, yes. When they come in and then go out, yeah. Sometimes they are able to leave the bad day and their bad experiences the door.


Sometimes they’re not. And that’s okay. And if we see them struggling and we adapt as much as we can in terms of let’s ride, but let’s make it a shorter ride, or let’s not ride, let’s do some course on the ground, or let’s only do one activity. So we’ll try and still make it a good experience for them so that they can actually achieve something out of  the day. In terms of progression. I understand a lot of kids we’re helping a lot of kids in here. Do we see like a pattern with autisticbeing kids are able to cope up faster, some kids coupe faster. Each ride day. our volunteers sit down in front of our iPad.


So we’ve just got a new CRM system, which we cataloged all their information. Part of that is reviewing the ride. And so that means, for example, did they have a bad day? So what did we do to make that better? Were they able to look there’s some that have a bad day and come in and you go, look, it’s not going to work. They’ll say it’s not going to work. So that’s why I call. What do you want to do? Spend five minutes petting the horse and we’ll see next week or so.


Again, we adapt. So part of that adapt is reviewing and saying this week, this particular instance for that rider, was there something we could have done better, differently, that kind of thing. So you have different strategies applied to different kids? Well, no, it’s more just different situations rather than different children. So if they come in, we have a lot that runs, so we’ve got quite a few runners. So what are we going to do as a group? How we’re going to manage that?


So we’ve made sure that we’ve got some rules and boundaries. That sounds terrible, not obvious, but that’s what we do. And if they’re going to run far more than you run up the drive and then run it, or do you know what I mean? So at least get it out of your system so that when you’re ready to ride, you’re nice and calm and you can concentrate on your ride. So you did mention about running. My child is running. One of our concerns is actually safety. Very much.


How do we look at safety around the facility? So most of the riders are supported by a caregiver, either through the school or mum and dad or family or some form of support. So from a one on one perspective, prior to coming into the building, then they’re actually well supervised. We’ve got off street parking, so if they do run, they generally run inside, which is really good. Running outside is a little bit of an issue, but most of the kids are pretty good when they set foot in the arena.


Our volunteers are aware of who the runners are and they keep above. Out of an eye, they might gather the door. If it’s too hard or they might distract them of something, that kind of stuff. Especially someone would be running across the arena and then there’s a horse there. Yeah, they’re actually pretty good though, most they know that when you’re on the sand on the sand, that they really can’t run because the horse will just run away. You don’t want it running at the top that we’ve got you on the viewing. In terms of the training that we are providing with our volunteers, in terms of the safety, how about their awareness of the safety of the kids? Not just themselves, but the kids as well? Yes.


So we generally assign the same volunteer with the same riders for consistency and routine. So then they have a vested interest in making sure that that rider is safe for you here. So part of that’s been vigilant around. Are they running? Are they huge? Have we got the helmet on properly? They’re wearing the right gear, are they ready to ride for that kind of stuff? Any particular requirements that you are seeking for those who wanted to join?


And also in general, what do they have to do? Do they have to call you or. Generally they’ll call us and we’ll get the email details and send them off a referral form. So we need to receive that referral form and then we look at this paperwork. How are we making parents seem comfortable that their kids are safe? I know we need to touch about the safety, but in terms of the parents, it’s a different kind of thing as well. Oh, I’m worrying about my child. I know we’re doing safety, but in terms of the parents, like for me, I would be more concerned my child is a runner and so how are we in terms of looking after the parents’ peace of mind?


So part of our assessment is when we do the initial assessment with the rider is we talk to the parents about what they want as well. So we try to incorporate that into the pre ride routine. Incorporate that when they’re riding. Sometimes we will have the parents working with us on the ride. There’s different schools of thought. Sometimes the children are better without the parents. Sometimes you’re better with. That’s an assertion that you make just by virtue of looking. You can see that there’s not many this sound terrible, escape routes for riders. It really is the doors here.


And I’m always the last wall of defense too, because I’ve technically,they got to run past me. Not that I’m a fast runner, but at least I can say, oh, this way or that way. We do have a toy box in the breakout tea room and that’s quite a big drawcard. So a lot of our runners will run there instead of outside. Are the programs across New Zealand the same? The core program? So the thinking around or the objectives around? Therapy, education, sports and rec are the same. But each program will probably deliver them slightly different based on the horses that they’ve got, the activities they’ve got, the volunteers, the number of volunteers they’ve got.


Some may have a therapist on site, some may have a therapist that they can talk to. So that may well change the delivery of the programs as well. But generally it’s the three programs. Any other programs you have here apart from the riding? Not for our riders with disability. So it’s just the three. We do have exercise riders that come in and exercise our horses. That’s not a program particularly, but that’s more for the welfare of the horses. But it ends up being quite a pony club kind of scenario, which is quite cool in case the horse is interested. Gives them new lease in life.  I know we’re changing our behaviors as well, generally across the globe in terms of covid, how are we handling the changes brought about by this? Pretty well, actually.


So of course we were in lockdown, no one was here except for our coworkers who are looking after the horses and then our riders. We were very well supported with riders and their parents because of course we consider them vulnerable children. So we need to be very careful as to the exposure that they have to covid and cold and flu in ways. So all of our volunteers are required to be masked up now and anyone who comes on site is still required to be vaccinated. Most of the parents are on board with that anyway. I mean, that’s how they would run.


Those who have exemptions like especially those special kids. So our riders aren’t necessarily required to mask up. We like our older riders to be masked before they hop on the horse, take the mask off because generally we can do the social distancing even though we’re indoors, but certainly when you’re off and talking to us a bit closer if they could mask out. But it’s our responsibility to make sure that we are safe and we are keeping them safe. And obviously it’s online class or program is not appropriate because they need to ride up.


They do. The whole point is getting on and having a horse’s movement help them and that’s the challenge. During the previous locked down, no one can ride. That’s right. So we normally invoice our riders per term for the ride fee sessions. We just don’t invoice them though. We had lots of parents that were very keen can we come down and pet the horses? Not at the moment, but I’ll tell you when you can because of that interaction with the horses that made it. That was what the kids loved. That’s an opportunity for them to go outside of their house. It really is, but for the sake of everybody, no. I have noticed an underlying I don’t know if anxiety is the right way, but an underlying which is getting better now, but an underlying anxiety around safety and everyone’s safety and covid and that kind of stuff. And people are far more responsible for staying home if they’re sick.


Which I think is a good thing, because that’s how you’re going to stop it. Are we being inspected by external organizations in terms of safety? Yes. So there are two big safety aspects NZRDA have  what they call a group resource library, which has all our policies and procedures which are in line with and so we need to be as a group. And there’s 52 of us in New Zealand. 52 RDA groups throughout New Zealand. So we’re all bound by the same guidelines. Here at Hutt Valley we also have once a month, we have the building fitness checks, so that’s your fire alarms, your fire extinguishes, your safety signs, all those kind of things. So we have them checked once a month. And then, of course, with our annual building fitness, we once a year get audited by reviewed sorry, by NZRDA for our operational certificate, which is all of the group resources that’s making sure that our programs are safe for the riders and we call the appropriate gear.


Are our horses safe, are our facilities safe? All that kind of stuff. And the horses are getting checked as well by vets. So we have a horse manager, so we currently have eleven horses on sight here, soon to be two more. Well, hopefully, we’ve got all shapes and sizes. We’ve got all our smallest one that’s 13 two, and our biggest is 15 two. And we need the bigger and the smaller because we’ve got a variety of weights on all of our riders. Each horse is put together differently too, so they’re going to move differently. So we manage them as they live outside most of the time, and they come inside the arena, or the stalls, when they’re being caught and used in the riding sessions. And our horse manager looks after the care. So make sure their teeth are done, they wound their showings done. What sort of feet are they on? If they got enough grass, they got enough hay, that kind of stuff.


And that’s where the horse exercise girls come in, so they give a little bit of enrichment, that kind of stuff. Are we funded by the government? No, we’re not government funded at all. We are funded by riding fees and philanthropic trusts. So Lotteries grants one foundation we are supported with probably 20 to 25 trusts that we would apply to for varying different most trusts, they have guidelines around what they can and can’t pay for. Our biggest cost, of course, is wages. So there’s three paid coaches and two contractors, so they obviously need to be paid. So that’s my biggest job at the time, for ground funding for wages. It’s nine grand a year for showing, it’s close to ten grand a year just for hay. It’s about two and a half to three grand a year for feed. So, yes, a lot of the trust will support us in the area as well. So good thing we have generous trust. Very good. Otherwise, well, if we couldn’t look up.


To the horses, we wouldn’t be able to ride the programme. This is the same across all the RDA. Absolutely. Do they have different funders or different donors providing funding to just the wider RDA and then split? No,most funders are per group and per region. So, for example, what their funding might be available in Auckland might not be available in Wellington, but we might depend on how far-reaching the grant funders are. In terms of the placement of New Zealand, we are well supported with Lotteries and Cogs as our most. I think you’ll find most RDAs in New Zealand are, which is really good. And there are some ones that are specific to us. Local to Wellngton. How can you define a success of a particular child who joins your program? I mean, how can we say that, okay, now you’re comfortable that you cannot graduate from the programme? Okay, so we have a couple of ways of measuring that.


So we set some long term goals and some short term goals for them as part of our initial assessment. And every week we review that as we talked about the sidewalk notes that will reflect the short term goals particularly. But we can measure their success just based on what we see ride session by ride session. If we graduate them sometimes if they are able to, they might progress to our sport and recognize and that’s more of a long term option, in my view. In our view, that’s more of a long term option. There are riding schools if they want to carry on riding, then there are riding schools in the Hutt Valley area they can go to.


But there might be other things like swimming or tennis or something else that they can then progress on to and we will chat with them about what that looks like. So you’ve met your goals, well done. Needs to graduate you, that kind of stuff. All right. So in terms of that riding sport, sport and rec? Yes. Which is another option for them. They can progress on that within this facility as well. If our sport and recreation program is quite a few coming in that are just riding for recreation. So they’re riding, they’re still learning how to ride, but it’s the recreation rather than walking or running or tennis or footy or any of that kind of stuff.


Do we have a schedule? Like okay, every Monday should only be for sports and rec. And then every Tuesday so we have. Not every RDA group will sort it out like that, but we’ve done that. So Monday is our higher needs riders because we did have a therapist working with us. So we put all of our higher needs riders on the Monday so that she could work with them. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are our educational days and then Friday is our sport and recreation. But still flexible. Absolutely.


As flexible as we can be. It’s not always easy to put a sport and rec rider on Monday because we just don’t have that. Our gear and our set up and our volunteers are not geared for sport. Our sport and rec program is pretty much individual riders, so it’s really just a coach and an assistant coach on the day. So they’re all individual.


They warm up the horses themselves. So the volunteer impact on a Friday is minimal. But Monday, of course, is the highest one because you might need three people for one rider as opposed to your education and you might need just a leader or a visual side. Any additional items that you would like to add? I mean, we have a really well trained team here in Hutt Valley. Susan is a senior coach. She’s pretty exceptional.


She has really good rapport with riders, so much so that she’s able to, if there is some challenging behavior, she comes up with some really good strategies for managing that, but also making it good for the volunteers to manage it. If she’s not there or for whatever reason, she can’t help. She’s ablely, supported by Serena and Sarah, who are both horsey people. Serena has been with us long time. She’s been with us probably five years now. Susan, three years. Sarah has actually been one of our senior volunteers.


So she was responsible for looking after the horses. So like feeding the hay, feeding the feed, changing the water, cross running fence with all the horse management stuff. And she’s been doing that for 15 years, so we’re very well supported. They recently all gained their level three client certificate coaching, which is really good. So that’s really good for them. So that’s an NZQA qualification. So what advice can you give to parents and kids potentially, who are going to be finishing off their programs and about to explore some other areas as well? Yes, so Susan is really good at that and she would just give them to say to them, have a go, give them the confidence.


Riding is giving you the confidence to have a go at doing stuff outside of here. In terms of the skills that they have acquired, we’re pretty much confident that they’re going to do well outside. Yeah, our theory around that is a life changing experience is what we like to call them. So horse riding has a lot of benefits anyway, just for you and I. We get a lot of benefit out of it anyway. But when you have a disability, sometimes the benefits are amplified. For example, sitting at core strength, and I’m trying to do that now, sitting up core strength. So that may mean that a rider who improves their core streets can actually sit at the table and have dinner with their families. It may be they’re looking at their coordination and their strength and their legs, as we talked about before, they go for a bike ride with their brothers or sisters. So do you know what I mean?


So being really specific about some of the goals that we’re trying to do, I like to say that a lot of our activities are using our hands, so we can do transferring, holding, a whole lot of that stuff. So maybe they can hold a knife and fork. What they can do is zip up or do you know what I mean? So some of their normal daily activities like daily activities. Yeah, because that’s pretty much important, especially very much. Our philosophy is that the majority of our riders are children, because the benefit to riding and they’re going to get younger, is going to pay dividends when you’re older. Do you have other riders coming back here as well? I know they may have graduated the program, but they still want to ride here.


No. So we don’t run a riding program particularly like that. We do have some that come back and want to volunteer in the horse side of things, but they might be able to on a ride day, they’ll catch the horse, brushes, satellite, that kind of thing. So they won’t necessarily ride, but they’ll be able to sort out a ten. It’s a draw card, and they get a special connection with the horse. Definitely. I want to go back again and see the horse that I used to ride.


Thank you for your time. All right, let me just bring out my questionnaires.


Hutt Valley Riding for the Disabled:

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