In 11th grade, and the first year of the IB Diploma Programme, each student choses a Local Service to participate in for the school year. Participating in Local Service allows the student to experience direct service, wherein the student would work directly with people, animals, or the environment to support a goal.
When looking at the options for Local Service, one that really stood out to me was one under the name “Support and Friendship with Riding with the Disabled (RDA)”, and I knew from the moment that I finished reading the description, that I really wanted to be a part of this service. I’ve done recreational horse riding in two countries for the past seven or so years, and I love being around horses. To me, and opportunity to share that excitement with others who may not have the same opportunities seemed perfect. I decided then that I really wanted to work with horses in order to help provide therapy and support to the disabled community in Singapore. Animal therapy is shown to have many positive effects on the body and mind, and horse therapy is one of the most dynamic. The movement of the horse helps loosen muscle tension and stabilize the core, promoting strength all around the body, especially good for children or adults who are rely on crutches or wheelchairs for support. I wanted to able to share my love for horses with others, the way that horse riding is good for the mind, and adapt that to how others could use it to be good for their body as well. I also went to the Riding for the Disabled Association website to read more about what the organization believes in and what they try to achieve. The organization is completely non-profit, the riders who come do not have to pay for their sessions, and the organization relies heavily on donations and charity events in order to support the stable and sessions.
On Friday the 14th of September, I travelled with the other members of my service group to the RDA stable, which is located between the Singapore Polo Club and the National Equestrian Centre. There, we met some other volunteers along with one of the instructors, who guided us through our first time, including the the checklist that we needed to complete and the forms for each rider. I think that one of the small goals that we completed as a group was gaining some understanding of the processes that we will go through weekly, and understanding the style of the stable. Each rider has three supporting people: one to lead the horse and two on either side to physically support and help guide the rider through different exercises.
From riding, I already knowhow to interact and be around horses in a safe manner, additionally I have previously done an activity where I helped beginners to prepare and guide the horse once they were seated. Therefore, I would stay that I am quite comfortable with my ability to be near a horse and also be able to help people who are new to being around horses. This will be one of my strengths that I start off with, although I know I will develop other strengths along the way.
As excited as I was to do this service, I also have a healthy dose of fear (or caution). Although horses can be very gentle animals, especially when trained to be a part of therapy, I still understand that there can be things outside of our control that can alarm, scare, or injure a horse, and that this could be very dangerous to the rider and to those of us in the arena. The member of my group who was leading the horse mentioned at the beginning that our particular pony could be slightly temperamental depending on different factors. This is more of a mental challenge than a physical one for me: to understand the difference between caution and fear. I didn’t know either of the two people that I was working with, as they were not part of UWC, however, they did have previous experience which I feel was important for my first time.
This activity is fairly new to me, not because of the fact that I have to be next to a horse walking, but because of the riders we work with. Although I am not unfamiliar to different physical or mental disabilities that members of all communities face, I don’t find myself working with them very often. The rider that I was working with was quite young, just 7 years old, and has Down Syndrome. There is the combination of age along with condition to work with, and boundaries, because I’m not sure what sort of relationship I am allowed to have with the riders.
I enjoyed myself, the young rider I was working with was extremely excited to be on a horse, and couldn’t wait to tell their mother at the end of the session. They did really well with the different activities, responding with the according action and having short conversations with me and my partner. It was a fun session working with her, and I hope to do so again next week.