Watching Katie Archer riding Mojo is an emotional experience.
The little girl is helped onto the horse by three Riding for the Disabled volunteers. Five-year-old Katie no longer has full control of her body, and she starts to thrash her arms down on Mojo, but he remains still and calm.
Then Mojo, assisted by the volunteers, gently takes Katie around the St Heliers Bay Pony Club grounds, while her poppa John watches on proudly.
Katie has Batten Disease, an extremely rare degenerative neurological condition which is ultimately fatal. Over time affected children suffer mental impairment, worsening seizures and progressive loss of sight and motor skills.
Her weekly visit to Riding for the Disabled (RDA) is something Katie dearly loves and John says it means so much to his family that they can build happy memories with their little girl.
The Harcourts Foundation has recently donated over $3000 for the purchase of new RDA volunteer uniforms.
The uniforms will be worn by the volunteers every Wednesday while they work with the 18 children currently taking part in the RDA programme at St Heliers Bay Pony Club.
Riding for the Disabled coach Fiona Wilson says the horses seem to intuitively know it is a time to be calm.
“They are all privately owned, eventing horses. It’s just incredible to see how they are with the children. There is a gentleness and respect that is evident. Even when a child has a seizure while riding, the horses keep calm. It’s like they know they have very special riders.”
The children taking part in RDA have a range of disabilities, from autism and hearing problems through to incapacitating physical disabilities.
Fiona Wilson says riding is good physical therapy, but it also teaches social skills and allows the children a chance to be independent.
“Here the horses won’t move unless they get the go ahead from their rider. It gives the children a sense of autonomy and control that they don’t always experience in everyday life.”
Harcourts St Heliers owner Kate Hargraves says it’s wonderful to be supporting such an incredibly worthwhile charity through the Harcourts Foundation.
“You can see by the looks on the children’s faces that they absolutely adore their time here. We are happy to be able to help in a small way.”