Horses help healing

Rayyaan Davids, on Target, helped by Sarda volunteers Jacqui Herbert, left, and Belinda Thom, at the back.

The South African Riding for the Disabled Association’s (SARDA) continued presence on nine-hectare grounds in Brommersvlei Road may hang in the balance, but that didn’t stop its volunteers holding a very special event for the disabled children who ride there.

The Countryside Challenge, started on Monday October 17 and ran over five days, with 220 children taking part. Modelled on the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Countryside Challenge held in Britain, the equestrian obstacle course gave Sarda’s children a chance to show off some of the skills they’ve picked up.

In March 2013 Sarda heard from a neighbour that the Brommersvlei Road grounds had been awarded to the Sadien Family Trust in a land claim (“Sarda headed for Concourt,” Bulletin July 21).

Sarda is now waiting for a Constitutional Court decision on whether or not it can continue using the grounds.

Stacey Baisitse watched through tears as children negotiated the equestrian obstacle course. The event was made possible after Ms Baisitse, an African Bank employee, won a competition at work.

“We’ve been wanting to host this event for over a year but it’s very expensive. Now we’re hoping it can become an annual event,” said Belinda Thom, the CEO of Sarda Cape Town.

African Bank CEO Brian Riley said Ms Baisitse had had to put together a project she was passionate about as part of a staff community work initiative. Her proposal had convinced the bank to sponsor the Sarda event annually.

For inspiration, Ms Baisitse had looked to her 12-year-old nephew, Jaden Gallant, who is living with spastic quadriplegia, a severe form of cerebral palsy caused by a loss of oxygen to the brain at birth.

The condition affects the entire body. Sufferers often cannot walk and have stiff limbs and no voluntary control over their necks.

“I’ve seen the benefits from therapeutic horse riding,” said Ms Baisitse.

“Jaden took lessons at Sarda when he was six-years-old and had to stop because my sister did not have transport. I wanted to help support Sarda in some way.”

Ms Thom said the obstacle course is designed by RDA . “We’ve given it an African twist, where flamingos stand in a field instead of sheep, with the Big Five made from beads and a tree with a snake,” she said.

Ms Baisitse swept her arm around the obstacle course saying she had done everything from start to finish including finding variously themed features for the obstacle course, including wire animals from bead workers at Constantia Village and post boxes she built with her dad.

Riders had to perform various tasks on the course, such as riding a figure of eight, posting a letter in the postbox and picking a doughnut from a pole. At each stop they used steering, colours and numbers and balance.

Ms Thom said the children are using different muscles just sitting on a horse that is walking. “But it’s also about the social benefits and building relationships with the horse, interacting with different people and experiencing this place with all the trees and dogs and cats running around,” said Ms Thom.

Rayyaan Davids, 11, could hardly sit upright on horseback, let alone ride, when he came to Sarda last year. He was at the event’s launch with his dad and younger brother who watch him at every opportunity. Sarda volunteers Kerry-Ann Phillips, a physiotherapist and Dawn Goodley work with him for half an hour to loosen him up before he rides.

Sarda Cape Town was established in 1973 by Belinda Sampson and Joy Finlay, along the principles of the British RDA to provide free therapeutic lessons. They have 14 horses and 100 volunteers. Sarda has grown from five riders to 200 a week from 13 schools in greater Cape Town.

They have two satellite branches in Sleepy Hollow, Noordhoek, and Sedgefield. Call 021 794 4393 or email capetown@sarda.co.za to find out more about Sarda