Riding for the Disabled group closes at St Albans college after loss of volunteer organiser

A student from Oaklands College Riding for the Disabled

A student from Oaklands College Riding for the Disabled - Credit: Photo supplied

The closure of a local Riding for the Disabled facility has shocked families because it had proved invaluable for those who used it and their carers.

After eight years, during which time teams of riders won a number of competitions, Riding for the Disabled (RDA) has closed at Oaklands College in Hatfield Road, St Albans,

The closure has brought criticism of a lack of communication about the closure of a facility which one parent described as providing ‘a valuable physical activity’ which gave riders the opportunity to achieve in a way they thought impossible.

County chairman, Suzanne Brown, explained that the RDA was an umbrella organisation for individual groups. She said the trustees of Oaklands RDA group had made the decision to close because of problems they were facing.

They included the loss of group organiser Sarah Moreland and lameness which had affected some of the horses.

She said the county organisation had offered to help the group keep going but the trustees, who have close links with Oaklands College, had decided it had to close.

She pointed out that as well as the cups and rosettes that Oaklands RDA members had won, all the disabled riders had enjoyed a great experience over the years..

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Suzanne said that RDA had been trying to ensure that riders who had used Oaklands had somewhere else to go and the horses had been transferred to other RDA facilities, with the lame ones undergoing rehabilitation.

She added: “From a county perspective we would hope that a new RDA group could be set up and would welcome local interest and support.”

Parent Susan Llewellyn Elvidge, whose daughter Elizabeth used the Oaklands facility, said that by riding with others who were disabled and/or had special needs, her daughter had gained confidence, a greater level of core body strength and the pleasure of interacting with the horses.

She felt there had been a lack of communication between the college and the RDA users since Sarah Moreland had moved on nine months ago. There had been no information about who would replace her and ‘since she left the whole system has gone into freefall and gradually crumbled into chaos.”

She said riders came from various locations because there were few suitable riding opportunities in the county and their family or carers waited while the class ran so they could transport them home again which was a commitment in time, travel and cost.

Describing RDA as ‘an amazing charity that helps people who have a harder time accessing things that we able-bodied take for granted’ she questioned how Oaklands could justify removing such a valuable resource.

But Sean Scully, director of student experience at Oaklands, defended the college. He said: “The Oaklands Riding for the Disabled is a charitable organisation that operated from Oaklands College. Unfortunately due to the loss of the volunteer organiser and the inability to replace this key role it became difficult for the organisation to operate successfully.

“The trustees of the RDA decided that it needed to close and to relocate its resources from Oaklands to other RDA Centres.”

He added: “We remain strong supporters of the Riding for the Disabled organisation; many of our students rode as part of Oaklands RDA and we will ensure that all our students, who remain our priority, will continue to use the equine resources supported by our staff and we will enable them to compete in RDA Competitions. RDA horses and residual money are being overseen by the National RDA so they can be used in other RDA centres.”

Anyone who would be interested in setting up a new RDA group in St Albans is asked to contact Suzanne at suzannecharlton@btinternet.com