A mechanical horse called ‘Mr Williams’ is helping disabled riders at a Cumbria riding school to gain confidence in the saddle.
Mr Williams has been part of the equine team at Happy Hooves Riding Centre since 2014, when owner Alison Noble purchased him realising he was a valuable asset for their equine therapy courses, and he was the only mechanical horse in the area at the time.
As an Accessibility Mark accredited centre, Happy Hooves also saw the benefit that Mr Williams, could bring to their disabled clients.
Riding for the Disabled Association, in partnership with the British Equestrian Federation’s participation programme, launched the revolutionary Accessibility Mark scheme to work with commercial riding centres with the aim of getting more disabled people to participate in riding.
There are many advantages to riding a horse simulator for anyone learning to ride but there are particular benefits for disabled riders, providing a safe and controlled way for riders to gain confidence before riding a real horse.
Getting on a horse for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you have a condition that limits freedom of movement or are easily distressed by changes in your environment.
Unlike with a real horse, the instructor can remain in complete control, so if the rider wishes to stop, they can do at the push of a button. This can prove helpful when teaching riders with learning difficulties, who can also make sudden movements and noises which could unsettle a horse or pony.
Mr Williams will progress from walk to canter, offering the same life like action of a horse, with a therapeutic lateral action found in all of his gaits, which can improve muscle tone and strength.
An interactive visual screen enables riders to experience riding through different locations that range from a stroll through a village, to a hack through the woods or even a canter on the beach. Along the way there are milestones and features that allow the rider to engage with the environment, such as posting a letter or visiting a farmyard which is a useful educational tool for those with learning disabilities.
The aim is for riders to progress to riding a real horse but for some this is simply not possible as their muscles are too weak. However, the simulator still provides the opportunity to get involved and take part in a physical activity.
Alison explains the importance of the mechanical horse to the clients at Happy Hooves: “We cater for a wide range of disabled riders from children to adults with learning difficulties that vary in severity. Mr Williams gives them an insight into what it is like to ride a real horse, helping to develop confidence, muscle strength and coordination, as well as a real sense of achievement.
“If the rider gets tired easily we can take a break whilst they are still mounted, giving the instructor time to adjust their position and posture to help them attain a more natural position.”
Mr Williams gained his name as Alison is such an avid fan of the singer Robbie Williams. “Giving him a name helps bring him to life and riders develop a fondness for him in much the same way as riders form a bond with a real horse.
“Looking to the future we are hoping to be able to purchase a hoist so more riders can enjoy the benefits both physically and mentally from riding a mechanical horse,” added Alison.
There are currently 40 Accessibility Mark approved centres across the country.
To find your nearest RDA Group or Accessibility Mark centre visit www.rda.org.uk