More than 120 Riding for the Disabled members, representing 26 groups from across the South East, converged on the Haven Centre in Crawley Down recently for the region’s Annual Conference, sponsored by East Grinstead’s Cowan Architects. A West Sussex-based RDA group was among the winners of prestigious awards.
This year, the theme was Gold and delegates were treated to meeting Rio’s triple equestrian Paralympic gold medallist, Sophie Christiansen and current carriage driving world champion, Anna Grayston, who thrilled them when they described their journeys to success.
Sophie with retiring chairperson for West Sussex Janie Lawson (centre) and Ed Bracher Photo: Joanna Sales
The day also included presentations from RDA UK Chief Executive, Ed Bracher on the future direction and growth of the RDA movement and the need to work together with other like-minded organisations for the benefit of giving disabled participants the experience they deserve.
Chair of the RDA Participation Committee, Emma Wells also talked about the need for groups to listen hard to their participants to understand what they really need and want from the groups while Natalie O’Rourke gave an insight into the trials and tribulations of setting up her new group at Park Lane Stables in Greater London.
Sophie Christiansen described her experiences in Rio as truly remarkable. “We were all united in one vision; to throw off our disability and perform in front of the world”.
In her praise of the RDA she laid down her commitment to speaking out about disabled rights and accessibility issues admitting “It’s amazing what you can achieve with a few gold medals! But none of this would have been possible without the start that the RDA gave me. Thank you – all of you – from the bottom of my heart”.
Sophie with Jemma London from Chichester Group which won the Buchan Bobby Trophy Photo: Joanna Sale
“This is the beginning of new conversations” said Regional Chairman, Lindsay Correa. “We need to set up Participants’ Pow Wows to make sure our customers get what they want”.
“At national level, we need to support groups who want to grow and celebrate those who are happy and comfortable as they are” said Ed Bracher. “We must be on the same team and encourage more groups to promote each other as well as our partnerships”.
Sophie Christiansen and Ed Bracher presented Long Service Awards for 35 years to Judith Melstrom of Stella Hancock Driving Group (Worplesdon, Surrey), 30 years to Rosemary Harrison who is also retiring as Surrey County Instructor, Brenda Tolhurst of Chalkdown Group (Staplehurst, Kent) and Shirley Price of Heron’s Ghyll Carriage Driving Group (Whitesmith, East Sussex) and 25 years to Hiliary Hill of Heron’s Ghyll.
Volunteer of the Year Award went to Sue Turok, Chair of Samber Group, Chobham, Surrey.
Her citation listed her as an ‘exceptional volunteer’ and the Group firmly believes “that without Sue’s dedication, loyalty and hard work the group may have closed this year but with her caring nature, positive attitude and dogged determination and belief in preserving the great work that we do, Samber is now successfully settled into new premises”.
Sophie with Sue Turok from Samber, who won Volunteer of Year award
Photo: Joanna Sale
Gilly Roper from Bradbourne RDA (Sevenoaks, Kent) was awarded the coveted Tora Bray Perpetual Trophy for her tireless support of RDA in the South East and nationally.
Chichester RDA Driving Group was awarded the Buchan Bobby Trophy for its amazing use of social media.
On a sadder note, the Region said “Goodbye” to Retiring Officers, Janie Lawson, County Chair of West Sussex and Lesley Morrill, East Sussex County Instructor.
Other awards were:
Volunteer of the Year:Corinna Heddle, Quest Group, Chobham, Surrey.
Jenna Leight Bradbourne Group, Kent County Chair and Regional Committee Member in Brilliant Idea category.
Sarah Groom and Eastbourne RDA for effective use of social media to find new ponies and volunteers.
Liz Jarvis, Woodchurch, Ashford, Kent for using a plastic moulding to extend and tailor the reins to fit her hands.
Most improved participant:Richard Attenborough, Cobbes Meadow, Canterbury, Kent who once was frightened of horses and now drives like a demon.
Lysa Jephcott and Bunny Penny of East Park, Newchapel for setting standards of excellence in our regional fundraising.