PHOTO GALLERY: Spalding kids with disabilities enjoy their pony rides

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If ponies could talk, perhaps they would share with us one of their great secrets.

What is it about them that works miracles for children with disabilities?

Garth school pupil Owen on Lucy with Hilary Haggis and Angela Richardson. SG210617-107TW

Garth school pupil Owen on Lucy with Hilary Haggis and Angela Richardson. SG210617-107TW

Maybe it’s horse sense that makes ponies so gentle with these kids but it looks a lot like love on those long, oh so patient and knowing faces.

It was a wonderful, sunny Wednesday as pupils from Spalding special schools, Garth and Priory, met two and four-legged friends from Fenland Riding for the Disabled (RDA) at private paddocks in Whaplode St Catherine.

There were three adults to each rider and pony, mostly members of the RDA although one or two school staff help out, and the smiles on every face told their own story.

Host and RDA supporter Annabel Hitcham was helping a little lad called Logan on his mount, Paddy.

She told us: “It’s a privilege to have everybody here, it’s magical.”

For most children, their first riding session is also the first time they meet a horse ... and, for some, it’s the first time they meet any kind of animal.

“When you see the children on the first day they are terrified,” said Annabel. “But to see the leap in confidence that they make is very moving. Without exception, every week, something happens, it’s just moving.”

One boy is so frightened of horses that, even after many weeks, he dare not sit on a pony. But he’s proud to say he can now stroke the ponies.

Most youngsters take to the saddle with ease and eagerly await their turn.

RDA member Angela Richardson told us: “I love what it does for the kids, it makes them smile. I think the children make a good connection with the ponies. They love to cuddle and pat them.”

Garth School teaching assistant Amanda Roberts said: “It really calms the children down and they are so happy on the horses.”

As well as riding the ponies, the children enjoy “pamper sessions”, where they learn to look after them.

The RDA needs more ponies for their sessions with children and are appealing for owners to help.

A pony practiced at show jumping or dressage may be perfect for the job as long as they are at least six-years-old.

The group would be happy to assess your pony if you get in touch.

RDA instructor Elise Scully says: “This group is quite unique in that all of these ponies belong to private owners, so they have a life outside the RDA. Some of them are competing at shows.”

Becky Compton’s daughter Ella (12) has done Intro A & B dressage with her pony, Jessie.

“Jessie is a very laid-back pony anyway,” said Becky. “But when she comes here she seems to chill even more because she knows she’s got a disabled child on her back.”

• Two new recruits joined the RDA as a result of a story in our sister paper, the Spalding Guardian. If you would like to join them or can offer a pony for the RDA sessions (see story below) please call Jill Dempster on 07714 775501.