With riding centres, equestrian centres and local stables offering everything from pony trekking across the beautiful countryside to horse therapy, how do you decide where the best place is to learn to ride?
Many establishments promote lessons for riders of all abilities, including disabled riders, but how do you know that they have the relevant experience to cater for the challenges facing a disabled rider? Horse riding has many therapeutic benefits but only if the lessons are delivered in a safe and correct manner by staff that have undergone training and assessment. Riding for the Disabled Association, in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation, launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme to work with commercial riding centres with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
Accessibility Mark status is awarded to a riding centre that has been approved by the RDA following training and assessment. The close link with the RDA means that it can offer continuous support to the establishment to ensure it provides a first-class experience that aims to be hugely beneficial. With 45 Accessibility Mark centres located across the country, disabled riders can ride with peace of mind, knowing that they are riding at a centre that has met the gold standard criteria of the RDA. It is a requirement for anyone wanting to run a riding centre in the UK to apply to their local council for a license. This is guaranteed with Accessibility Mark centres who are also affiliated with another well-respected organisation such as The Pony Club, British Horse Society or The Association of British Riding Schools.

To maintain the license the centre will be regularly inspected to ensure the health and welfare of the horses and ponies and to check that they are suitable to be used in a riding establishment. Liability insurance is compulsory to cover the centre and safeguard its clients against any accidents that might occur. All members of staff and any volunteers at Accessibility Mark centres must  participate in a training day with an experienced ASO (Accessibility Support Officer).

The training focuses on good practice to ensure safety in things such as mounting and dismounting, and an understanding of the need for side-walkers for some riders. To give clients confidence in the quality of teaching, all instructors wishing to teach Accessibility Mark sessions must be qualified to at least UKCC Level 2 or equivalent.
The ASO is also readily available to centres to offer advice, particularly on lesson planning for individuals to help tailor lessons to help each rider progress to achieve their maximum potential whilst keeping sessions fun and interactive. Being able to communicate effectively is key to providing a good service. With the help of the ASO, staff can be educated on finding the right tone to connect with clients.
The training day also introduces staff to a number of pieces of specialist equipment, as well as training on how to use each piece effectively to the benefit of the horse, rider and coach. There are a wide range of specially adapted reins that can help riders to be more effective with rein control where function, grip, strength and hand and arm position may be compromised.
It is not just the staff at Accessibility Mark Centres that are assessed; the horses and ponies must also be passed as fit for purpose, as not every equine is suitable to be ridden by a disabled rider. Some people assume that horses used in an RDA session must be old and steady, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but their temperament must be able to cope with extra helpers and unexpected movement and noises from the rider.
So, if you are thinking of trying horse riding for the first time, look out for the Accessibility Mark stamp of approval.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk