Guidelines for Parents/Carers
By Fiona Gorrie, Associate, CVI Scotland
Written for CVI Scotland & CVI Society
So you've read our piece on the benefits of horse riding for children with CVI and decided to give it a try? What follows are some suggestions that have been produced, in consultation with parents who've been through the process, which might make the process slightly easier.
Is your child suitable?
This will depend on individual stable's discretion. In general your child will need neck control and some degree of muscle tone.
Step 1: Looking for a stables
Because of its many benefits, horse riding is very popular for people with additional needs. This unfortunately means that stables often have very long waiting lists.
Don't let this put you off. Keep trying and register as soon as possible!
RDA or Non-RDA stables?
RDA = Riding for the Disables Association Incorporating Carriage Driving
Parents of children with CVI have reported that they have had equally excellent experiences with both types of stables. It's about finding a stables that's right for your child and their needs that's important.
What's the difference?
Non RDA centres are private stables, that aren't specifically focused on riding for those with additional needs. You might want to check the following:
- are they insured for disabled riders? (Some won't be, but others are!)
- do they have instructors with experience with additional needs?
- do they have specific sessions for children with additional needs?
- do they allow riders with additional needs in mainstream events?
The RDA is a UK wide charity that delivers horse riding and carriage driving lessons (discussed at the end) to people of all ages with developmental and/or physical disabilities.
- There are around 500 RDA stables across the UK. They all have the same overarching goals and have similar activities. But all are organised slightly differently.
- All stables are run by trained instructors and volunteers.
- Sessions usually range from 30mins-1 hour.
- All groups offer subsidised lessons - the level of this varies between groups.
- 30min group session prices range from approx. £9-£16 (May 2017)
- 30min individual sessions approx. £16-£25. (May 2017)
To get your child registered with a local RDA group, some parents have suggested the following:
- Prepare a paragraph about your child, their needs and why you really want to try horse riding.
- Type your postcode into the RDA website's RDA group finder.
- Email your paragraph to the nearest groups that come up.
- Wait for the response. One parent reported that she sent a paragraph to 15 stables, was offered lessons at two stables and a place on the waiting list for another.
Questions parents have recommended asking during enquiries:
- What are the instructors like?
- How frequently can they offer lessons?
- Do they have individual and group sessions?
- What are their staff:child ratios?
- What facilities do they have?
- Do they organise events?
Step 2: Selecting stables
Found a stable (or a few) but still unsure? Ask if you can visit and/or sit in on a lesson to see if it'll be the right place for your child.
Step 3: Preparing for first trip
Prior to starting, give the stables as much information as possible about your child and what you think might help make the experience as good as it can be for them. For example:
- How does your child communicate if they're happy/unhappy/stressed?
- What makes your child feel at ease? e.g. familiar music/escorts singing and not talking?
- Does your child have any challenging behaviour? What is the best way to respond to it?
- How long is your child's attention span - how long will they usually engage in a new activity? Is it worth reducing the length of initial sessions? (Sessions usually 30mins+).
- How does your child respond to new people? Would it help to have the same guides each week? Same horse each week?
- Would it help if your child visited the stables and the horses a few times before beginning lessons?
- Sending your child's helmet measurements (stables will be able to provide guidance on how to do this) ahead of time may reduce need to try on multiple helmets.
From a CVI perspective, these are things you might want to consider:
- With CVI, a clutter free, empty arena is likely to benefit your child during their sessions.
- Individual sessions may be preferable for people with CVI. In group sessions the benefit that comes from being high up on a horse, above much visual clutter, is reduced (other people on horses are at your eye level, moving in different directions and need a lot of visual processing).
- Movement - if your child is in a group session, where possible, it is best to ensure they are moving in the same direction, at the same speed as the other riders in the group (as this gives them the best chance of seeing clearly). In contrast, if they're moving in one direction and people are coming towards them, moving in the opposite direction to them, this significantly reduces clarity of vision and may be frightening.
- Does your child have depth perception challenges? Might they sometimes reach for items that are far away, thinking that they are closer? Might they move to avoid something that isn't there?
Worried about safety? My child isn't well balanced/has epilepsy/unpredictable behaviour etc...
Discuss any safety concerns with the stables; the centre manager, instructor and other professionals involved in the group may be able to evaluate the level of support needed for your child. They will endeavour to find a way to help your child participate. For example, increasing the number of escorts your child has and/or having an escort sit behind your child on the horse.
Step 4: Future Visits
- Has your child enjoyed horse riding? Do you have a regular slot? Perhaps the stables are oversubscribed and this is not possible - ask them for recommendations of other stables to contact. Some parents in the same situation have reported that they found it easier to find other stables for their child to go to because they'd already had an initial positive experience with riding.
- Progression: it's all about taking it at a pace that's right for your child. Everyone will be different. Some children will love going faster and jumping, others may prefer longer walks outdoors, exploring different environments. The stables will know when and to what your child is ready to progress to.