Riding for the Disabled Association celebrates 50th anniversary

To celebrate its 50th anniversary year in 2019, Riding for the Disabled Association is marking the milestone through its 50 Faces campaign, telling the stories of some of the amazing people who make RDA the extraordinary organisation it is today.

Image: RDA

Designed to challenge preconceptions about disability and volunteering, and to celebrate the diversity and inclusiveness of RDA, 50 Faces features a collage of portraits, as well as the surprising and often moving stories of horse riders, carriage drivers and volunteers from all over the UK.


“A 50th anniversary could be a time for looking back, but we wanted to celebrate where we are now, as leaders in disability sport, and also look to our future – helping even more disabled people to benefit from time with horses,” says Caroline Ward, Communications Manager at RDA UK.


“50 Faces is an engaging and interactive way for people to find out more about what we do – and will hopefully inspire more people to get involved.”


Bernadette Leslie was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to walk. She began riding with RDA when she was eight-years-old, through the special needs school that she attended.


Said Bernadette: “I rode every week and it was always my favourite day of the week and I appreciated how lucky I was to get to do something that most people never get to do.”


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At 11, Bernadette moved schools which meant she had to give up riding with RDA, much to the disappointment, of both her and her parents, who recognised the huge benefit that riding brought to Bernadette.


Not knowing if she would ever ride again, Bernadette turned her hand to Boccia when she was 18. Boccia is a precision ball designed for athletes with high support needs and requires a high degree of skill.


At 24, Bernadette won a bronze medal, representing Great Britain in the BC1/BC2 team event at the 2006 Boccia World Championships, held in Rio de Janeiro.


“Competing in a giant tent on Copacabana Beach was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.” added Bernadette.


Four years ago, Bernadette got the opportunity to get back in the saddle and return to where her passion for riding began at RDA Carrick, based in Ayrshire.


It immediately felt like home, like she had been welcomed into a second family. When her horse went lame shortly before the RDA National Championships, Bernadette thought her dream of competing at Hartpury was over, until RDA stepped in and kindly loaned her a horse.


“RDA not only helped me with my riding but it has also helped me to have more confidence in myself and have the belief that I can do other things.” commented Bernadette.


RDA’s support to its participants extends further than just the weekly sessions, something which Bernadette discovered recently when she was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease of the liver, helping to keep her spirits up at a time when her confidence really took a knock.


“Even now as I adjust to the daily challenges an auto-immune disease brings, I maintain a positive spirit and attitude and any day that I am involved with RDA activities with RDA Carrick is easily my favourite day of the week!”


You can read Bernadette’s story, and meet the other 49 Faces of RDA at www.rda.org.uk


50 Faces has been supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

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