Mrs Gwen Garrett: Riding for the Disabled

Wednesday 1 November 2017 : Mrs Gwen Garrett: Riding for the Disabled

Gwen John
Mrs Gwen Garrett, Chairperson Omagh RDA with Probus President, John McCandless

The Omagh branch of RDA [Riding for the Disabled] was founded in 1981 by a group of local volunteers and based in Old Mountfield House.  Today RDA has its own purpose-built equestrian centre at Arvalee, in a building opened in 1985.   From small beginnings it now caters for over 80 riders a week, with participants coming from all parts of Tyrone Fermanagh and Donegal.  It has no paid staff, depending on some 60 volunteers and 9 qualified riding coaches: it currently has 12 horses and ponies. RDA provides participants with not just the opportunity to learn to ride but also to work with the horses in ways which provide therapy, enjoyment and exercise. New skills are acquired within nationally recognised education programmes that lead to vocational qualifications.   For those who can feel isolated by disability it offers social interaction and inclusion.   Omagh RDA works closely with schools and social services offering enjoyable and challenging courses for children and adults with special needs, especially those on the autistic spectrum.  The benefits for both volunteers and participants are considerable in terms of acquiring enhanced confidence and self-esteem through working with the horses and each other.  The success of the enterprise has been such that many of the participants no longer consider themselves “disabled” and have adopted a new name  for their group.  Omagh RDA is now Omagh EPONA,  after Epona, the Celtic goddess of horses.