Volunteering is a great way to use your time and get involved with the local community while you are living in Singapore. British expat Becky Vinden tells us what’s involved when you volunteer at Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), and how you can help.
What motivated you to volunteer at Riding for the Disabled?
I was looking around for a charity where I could offer assistance and I came across RDA on a walk one day; I’ve been a volunteer with them now for about two years. I grew up around horses and rode for most of my childhood and adolescence before heading to university. I also love working with children, and my mother was an active volunteer for RDA in the UK when I was growing up, so I know the organisation and it felt like a good fit.
Do you have previous experience working for charities?
I’ve worked with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) here in Singapore under their Enable-A-Family scheme. The scheme predominantly works with families and children who have experienced child abuse, neglect or domestic violence. As a volunteer, I befriended children and provided educational, emotional and social support with weekly visits and outings. In addition, I’ve participated in various fund-raising and volunteering missions in Bali and Cambodia.
What does volunteering at RDA entail?
RDA conducts two to three sessions a day, with each session usually having six riders at any one time and lasting for 45 minutes. Within a session, each rider will be assigned a horse or pony, and three volunteers. Two sidewalks are required per rider – these are the people who walk either side of the rider to offer physical support (if required), and to communicate with the rider to ensure they are comfortable at all times, and that they receive a safe, positive experience and the best possible therapy for their particular disability.
In addition, a leader is needed to prepare the horse or pony for the session. They will groom and “tack up” the horse, often with specialised equipment, warm up prior to the session as well as lead and take care of the horse for the entire session, and cool down afterwards. Furthermore, each session will have a trained instructor and an assistant instructor (also a volunteer) to conduct and oversee. During the session, riders will perform activities on horseback, and since the riders in each session can have varying degrees of mental and/or physical disability there is a focus on individualisation so they each receive the best possible therapy for them. At the end of each session there’s always a debrief to give feedback on the individual rider and discuss any progress or developments.
How can people help?
Each session requires a total of 19 volunteers plus an instructor, so we always need more volunteers – no experience necessary! Each volunteer will start as a side-walker, receive training, and, if they express an interest, may have the opportunity to lead once they have fulfilled the necessary training. We need enthusiastic people who are able to walk for 45 minutes beside a horse and provide a safe, positive experience for riders who are often nervous and lacking confidence or the ability to communicate effectively.
What’s the most rewarding thing about volunteering at RDA?
The beaming smile or gleeful giggle that an otherwise uncommunicative child gives when they are sitting on top of a horse – it’s the best feeling in the world!
How important a job do you feel the Riding for the Disabled Association does in terms of assisting the disabled?
I think the experience that RDA offers is like no other, and the results are clearly visible. From seeing someone who is labelled as “non-verbal” speak for the first time, to a wheelchair bound person enjoy the feeling of freedom and confidence that RDA offers, you really cannot underestimate the importance of hippotherapy (therapy treatment using horses) and of RDA in the disabled community.
How else can people help if they can’t volunteer?
If people don’t have the time or inclination to volunteer, there are other ways to support RDA. Since it’s a charity providing free-of-charge therapeutic riding sessions, it relies entirely on donations and the generosity of individuals or corporations, so any and all donations are greatly appreciated. RDA also hosts various fundraising activities that the whole family can get involved in – pony rides at their Open Day once a year, movie nights, a day at the races, golf days and a gala ball to name but a few.
For more head to our Living in Singapore section!