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Riding centre for disabled faces uncertain future

ONE young man who attends Bannockburn Riding for the Disabled had an unusual question about his horse.

"Does Solo live with his mum and dad?" he asked Helen Kallow, co-manager of the charity's transitions project for six to 19-year-olds.

"A lot of the time they are exploring things happening in their own lives," she explains of the young people sent to the project.

The boy in question wasn't disabled, though. Bannockburn Riding for the Disabled has offered therapy, exercise and the enjoyment of horse riding to people with physical or learning disabilities for two decades.

Run by a charity affiliated to a UK-wide RDA association, the centre also provides training to coaches from around Scotland.

But the centre has another role, doing ground-breaking work with disaffected and disengaged young people from a number of different Scottish local authority areas.

However, a dispute with the charity's landlord is threatening the centre's future, much to the concern of those who feel it provides a vital service.

Ms Kallow, an RDA coach and former teacher, receives referrals from several councils, among them truants, children in care, and young people with anger management, anxiety or behaviour issues. They take part in one-to-one work, tailored to their individual needs, she says.

"They work with the horses to understand their behaviour, how they react and how to be around them. Horses are pretty predictable and animals aren't judgemental either."

Young people get involved in the routine of the centre - some will ride, but only if they want to. Others are happy just to work with a horse - grooming and managing feed - and build a relationship, she says. "Often we will try to equate looking after a horse with looking after themselves."

Working alongside people with disabilities and wheelchair users can help build tolerance and they get to understand the personal space needs of horses and people, Kallow explains.

The young people get the opportunity to sit Asdan personal development programmes, and take RDA proficiency tests. Some score highly on a test for the first time in their lives, she adds.

Those for whom formal education can be challenging can learn through real world tasks, such as counting money, writing letters of thanks to donors, or calculating how much hay a budget will buy.

Although she had worked as a primary teacher in a "challenging" school, her extra-curricular activities led to Ms Kallow's current job. A volunteer during school holidays from the age of 14 herself, she became more actively involved in RDA when she was 19. Now her professional experience helps underpin the work of the centre with disadvantaged pupils. Young people are sent to the centre from Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire councils, which plainly recognise the benefits some disengaged pupils can gain from involvement in the programme.

Liam Purdie, assistant head of service for social services at Stirling, said: "The riding facility at Bannockburn is a valuable asset for us and we use it to help a range of children with different physical disabilities and behavioural challenges.

"The horses are so calm and the people there are excellent with children, giving them a sense of independence and achievement."

The centre accepts volunteers aged 12 upwards, so some of those who come along as referrals can become actively involved themselves.

In a number of cases, Ms Kallow says, young people who education authorities have failed to engage in even minimal school attendance will not miss a single appointment at RDA.

"Some come out of school to do this, but others are not attending at all. We get children from a traveller background, truants, kids with ADHD or violence in the home, and anger control issues. "Sometimes you look at them and you think 'how are they going to cope' but they do," she says.

The cloud on the horizon is a current threat to the centre's future caused by a dispute with the charity's landlord over an access road.

This is also affecting work with disabled clients. At present, the centre uses a Landrover to pick up some existing clients, Ms Kallow adds. "A lot have difficult family circumstances, so we are keen to provide continuity for as many people as possible."

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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