They say you should never work with children or animals – but every rule has an exception. We learn more about Dubai’s unique therapy programme for those with special needs, and how you can get involved.
Whether to foster cats, help paint schools or clean up the city’s desert beauty spots, there are many organisations in Dubai that rely on the good will of volunteers. Riding for the Disabled Association of Dubai (RDAD) is just one of them – unfortunately, they currently find themselves in need of several extra pairs of hands. The programme offers therapeutic horse riding sessions for young people with special needs, and as manager Caroline Seemar explains, the initiative has gone from strength to strength since it started.
How did Riding for the Disabled first come about?
Riding for the Disabled Association of Dubai began when our patron, Her Highness Sheikha Hassa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, first loaned three of her horses to a therapeutic riding workshop being held at Rehab 98, in March 1998. From there, we’ve grown from three ponies and a handful of children to a full team at RDAD and many volunteers working with approximately 60 children and young adults at a facility in Desert Palm. We provide extra-curricular therapy for students at Al Manzil School, Dubai Centre for Special Needs and Dubai Autism Centre, as well as for children brought in directly by their parents. Our riders’ disabilities include autism, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, cognitive development disorders and various learning disabilities, and our students come from all over the world, including the UAE, India and Europe.
What does a riding session entail?
When students arrive, they are received by their volunteer for the morning who prepares them for their riding class, before escorting them to the bench outside where they meet their instructor. From there, they are assisted in mounting their horse and taken to the arena. During a lesson there are several goals – being able to control a horse and their own body inspires self-confidence and responsibility in the riders. From the beginning, they learn balance, coordination and self-assurance, all while getting therapeutic muscle stimulation. Our aim is to improve poise, posture, strength and flexibility, and riding helps reach deep muscles that aren’t worked during conventional physical therapy. The psychological benefits of the sessions are improved social and emotional intelligence, such as better communication skills, patience, emotional control and self-discipline. We aim to encourage riders by focusing on ability and not disability.
How many people have you had in the programme and how many more do you hope to help?
We have helped about 600 children since 1998. We are still small, but we have big hearts, dedication and work hard to make a difference – we really
would like to help infinitely more students in the future.
You’re currently looking for more volunteers to help you keep going. What do you need people to do? What can they expect?
We’re looking for dedicated and committed volunteers, whose job will be to lead a horse for a child during the lesson, or walk alongside, supporting the child, encouraging them to reach their goals and making sure they are always safe. Without volunteers, our children cannot ride. No horse experience is necessary – just lots of enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference.
What keeps you doing your own job at RDAD?
Just having seen how the children improve and benefit from the programme has made it extremely worthwhile for me. Seeing the excitement on their faces from week to week makes me happy, seeing them enjoying themselves, improving and gaining confidence. It really is extremely fulfilling work.
To volunteer your time or for more information about RDAD, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More volunteer opportunities
The Animal Project
This organisation is always in need of people to look after cats and kittens. Drop them a line to find out how you can help.
Volunteer in the UAE
Offer your services for everything from painting schools to beach clean-ups to typing Braille books. Visit the website for the full list of opportunities, but don’t sign up unless you fully intend to turn up – no-shows can hinder projects.