Volunteering at New Zealand riding for the disabled

by Daniel Alexander

My name is Catherine Neville and I am senior studying biology and education at Juniata College. I am currently spending a semester abroad studying at The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. I am enrolled in 3 papers (courses): Introduction to World Musics, Conversational Maori, and Marine Invertebrates. In addition to that, I spend 4 hours a week volunteering at NZ Riding for the Disabled (RDA).

Dunedin RDA is a volunteer-based therapeutic horseback-riding program. After my arrival in New Zealand, I was talking to my resident director, Ashley, about how I loved riding horses and how I did an internship at a therapeutic riding center while in high school. It turns out that Ashley knew of two similar places near Dunedin and pointed me in the direction of the community service office. With the help of the community service office and Ashley, I had my first visit to Dunedin RDA the next week.

Their mission as stated on their webpage “is to provide confidence, independence, and well-being for people with disabilities through therapeutic horse riding and horse care.” As a volunteer, I can do all that and much more as both a barn hand and a coach.

The riding facilities are under construction as they try to improve the environment for the horses, students, and families. Due to the construction, one of my jobs is helping with minor repairs, such as filling in holes with dirt that could cause severe injury to humans and horses and moving fences.

volunteering New Zealand

I also help with tacking up (putting on the bridle, saddle, stirrups, etc.) and preparing the horses for their lessons. This includes helping the student find their tack, bringing their horse in to be tacked up, brushing the horse, and putting the tack on. This can be hard for some of the students who do not have the physical capabilities to do this by themselves. It also provides an opportunity to check on how the student is doing physically and emotionally. You can check their balance, coordination, ask how the school is going, and ultimately create a bond with them.

The third part of my job is as a barn hand. I spend time mucking stalls, feeding, and putting horse blankets on. My volunteer description also involves special care for the horses at RDA, which can get a bit messy. Ginge, a 17-year-old Thoroughbred, has a permanently broken tail. His tail was already broken when he arrived at RDA and there is nothing that can be done to fix it. One of the problems that stem from having a broken tail is that he is not able to move it. This means that every week his tail and the area around it need to get thoroughly cleaned. Let me tell you, it can be quite a dirty task to clean the rear end of a horse!

While I love horses and have been horseback riding for almost 9 years, the true reason I love volunteering at a therapeutic horseback riding program is the students. Their happiness is the most rewarding aspect of the job. Usually, I work with three of the students. They all have very different needs and abilities. One is deaf but does not let that stop her from excelling at any task given to her. The entire time she is around the horses, she has a smile on her face. The instructors always remark on her kindness and willingness to learn. The other girls I work with have very different needs and abilities. I love spending time asking them questions about their day at school, teaching them horsemanship skills, and listening to their stories. It is such a rewarding experience to be a part of their lessons.

Volunteering has had such an amazing impact on my time abroad! It has allowed me to do something I do at home, in a new and exciting place. Also, it provided me an opportunity to get off campus and relax for a couple hours each week. Volunteering allowed me to get into the community and meet more people. I now have even more connections to New Zealand. My experience volunteering abroad has been rewarding and taught me to always do what you love.

About the Author – Cat Neville, Fall 2018 Dunedin, New Zealand & Juniata College Student

My name is Catherine Neville. I am a Biology and Secondary Education double major at Juniata College. After I complete my undergraduate degree, I plan to work in a high school biology classroom. I hope to have a side job working at a therapeutic horseback riding program.