Anything beyond 10 years of age is considered a grand old age in the Emirates, which is why it’s rather remarkable that more people haven’t heard of the Riding for the Disabled Association in Dubai, (RDAD) which turns 13 years old this October.
The association was set up in 1998 by Her Highness Sheikha Hassa bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who donated three horses from her stable for the sole purpose of giving disabled children the chance to interact with the animals. Riding is a therapeutic exercise for a number of physical disabilities such as sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, amputation, developmental disorders, spinal cord injury, brain injury, cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairment, as well as learning disorders, emotional problems, anxiety disorder, and behavioural problems.
‘It helps improve flexibility, coordination, and self-confidence – not to mention the fact it’s an opportunity for some fun!’ says RDAD instructor Helen Jennings. ‘Furthermore, the interaction with the instructor, volunteers and other riders provides children with special needs the opportunity to develop their social and emotional intelligence.’
The riders range from three to 20 years in age and are representative of the UAE’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Helen says that the children and young adults who partake in lessons build genuine, caring relationships with the horses, which she says have a sixth sense in respect to riders’ needs and abilities.
The horses have been through an extensive desensitisation programme in order to react appropriately to any potential circumstance with their rider. ‘They [the horses] are the rock behind our programme,’ says Helen. ‘Without these amazing animals, and their ability to work tirelessly, we would simply not be able to function.’
But the programme also relies on the help of volunteers, which is why RDAD is currently recruiting. ‘No experience is necessary,’ assures Helen. ‘Just reliability, enthusiasm and the desire to have a good time is all that’s needed.’
As well as leading horses during lessons, volunteers are asked to meet, greet and be sociable with riders, as well as to ensure their safety and physically support the children whenever required. Helen insists this isn’t hard work, but it does require commitment and patience – two virtues that are rewarded in infinite measure by the satisfaction that you are helping to make this unique experience possible.
Alternative animal therapies
From dogs to dolphins, we look at alternative animal activities for the disabled
Kids and animals are a natural combination – pets, for example, can provide invaluable companionship for disabled children, since they develop a sense of responsibility, self-esteem and an opportunity to connect with another living being.
To adopt a pet, contact Feline Friends on 050 451 0058 or K9 friends on 04 885 8031. Remember that taking on a pet is a life-long commitment!
Swimming with dolphins is renowned for its positive effects on conditions as varied as cancer to physical disability. The good-natured attitude of dolphins towards humans, combined with the buoyancy of the water, helps relieve physical pain and encourages people to swim, helping to develop muscles and increase flexibility.
Atlantis at The Palm Jumeirah offers the chance to swim with dolphins, with prices starting at Dhs625. For further details and package options, call 04 426 1030