2024 RDA Annual Award Winners Announced

RDA are delighted to share the Annual Award Winners for 2024. The RDA Annual Awards celebrate the dedication, passion and commitment of individuals who have made a significant impact on our community over the past twelve months.

We are delighted to recognise the achievements and the positive impact all of the winners have made on our organisation.

Ben Wishart, Participant of the Year, riding at Ballyclare RDA, being led by volunteers.
Ben Wishart, Participant of the Year, riding at Ballyclare RDA, being led by volunteers.

Participant of the Year

Ben Wishart – Ballyclare RDA

Since 2019, despite being non-verbal and facing the challenges of severe autism, Ben has steadily improved his riding skills while partnered with Guinness the pony.  

Even after a pause due to the pandemic, riding with two sidewalkers at his side, Ben has demonstrated a commendable commitment to his passion. His gradual progress, especially this year, in being able to independently mount his horse, speaks volumes about the positive impact of RDA activities on individuals with autism.  

The support from his dedicated helpers at Ballyclare RDA has played a crucial role in fostering his development. Ben’s story is not just about riding; it is about empowerment and breaking down barriers. Ben’s journey serves as an inspiration, emphasising the transformative potential of these activities in enhancing the lives of riders. He is a shining example of the RDA motto “it’s what you can do that counts”. 

“Ben may be non verbal but his family’s shrieks of joy clearly communicated the impact of winning this valued award. This is a sentiment shared by our small group of volunteers at Ballyclare RDA group. We are all absolutely delighted that Ben has been chosen to win this award.” 

Jo Goldsmith Volunteer of the Year
Jo Goldsmith - Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer of the Year

Jo Goldsmith – Pembrokeshire RDA

Jo always goes above and beyond to ensure the riders in her Group have the opportunity to develop their health and wellbeing through educational activities in all RDA sessions. She takes the time to mentor new volunteers and coaches not only in her own group, but also as a National Coach Developer, travelling around the country to offer advice and support to those on the coaching pathway. 

Jo takes on many different roles, from being the Group Chair and trustee of the Pembrokeshire Group, to overseeing training, training new equines, supporting riders in achieving their proficiency tests and much more. Notably so, Jo went above and beyond to secure the premises, where her group had been based for 45 years, after a change in ownership, ensuring their life changing sessions could continue in Pembrokeshire.  

“I first met disabled riders when training to be a riding instructor at Moat House in Benenden Kent and was incredibly impressed by their courage and determination. I was introduced to RDA when I went to work at the Royal Mews in Windsor in 1973, a couple of years after Princess Anne became its Patron, and it was her influence that kept me involved. While I have only been with Pembrokeshire RDA since 1994, I taught my first disabled rider in 1964, a little girl, who had Thalidomide. 

I have spent my whole working life as a riding instructor, more recently RDA Coach, so this award is a lovely surprise.” 

Georgia Halliwell Paget - Young Volunteer of the Year, riding at Hartpury University.
Georgia Halliwell Paget - Young Volunteer of the Year, riding at Hartpury University.

Young Volunteer of the Year

Georgia Halliwell-Paget – The Cavalier Centre 

Georgia first joined The Cavalier Centre four years ago as a participant, determinedly working her way up to competing at Regionals and at the National Championships, proudly representing her Group.  

Since 2022, Georgia became a volunteer and always has a wonderful smile whilst thinking of those around her. No challenge is too much for Georgia, she is always happy to help. With the newer volunteers she guides them, making them feel part of the team. The horses are groomed to perfection, but none shine as bright for her as Heston! 

As a passionate young equestrian, Georgia is quick to learn new skills and takes great pride in all that she does, this coupled with her enthusiasm and friendly nature make her an amazing asset to the group. Georgia not only represents the centre as a participant, but that she also dedicates her time to help create such a wonderful place for others. She does this with the biggest smile and is a shining example to all. 

“It is a true privilege to be awarded the Young Volunteer of the Year Award, but it is even more of a privilege to be a volunteer at RDA itself. There is so much you get out of being someone who gets to help others and be with the horses. I have learnt so much during the years that I have been volunteering. Without the RDA I would never be where I am today. I have been to competitions and I have met HRH, The Princess Royal.  

I think that this award is really for everyone at The Cavalier Centre because they are the ones who have taught me new things and built my confidence. So thank you very much to everyone who got me to where I am today.” 

Sam, Equine of the Year with Participant Lewis
Sam, Equine of the Year with Participant Lewis at Park Lane Stables.

Equine of the Year 

Sam – Park Lane 

Sam is the only carriage driving horse at Park Lane Stables, a super busy Group based in London. Arriving in London from Wales, Sam turned his hoof to being a Londoner and embraced the change.  

Sam gives freedom to so many participants, as for many, carriage driving is the only activity they can do. Sam is so patient and reliable; the Group never have to worry when they are loading the wheelchair user onto the carriage as they know he will wait until everyone is ready. He is kind and giving, he knows his job and carries it out with pride. Being a horse in London is not an easy task and Sam’s job really is the trickiest of all and being the only horse in the Group who can help, Park Lane are forever grateful to him and reliant on him. 

Sam gives wheelchair users the opportunity to participate, alongside their peers, gaining all the sensory benefits and experiencing the freedom of horses. Sam joined when Park Lane were brand new to carriage driving and has allowed participants to achieve so much, competing at the National Championships, Royal Windsor Horse Show and introduced hundreds to the joy of horses. 

“As a Group we are absolutely delighted that Sam has been recognised with this award. All RDA horses are incredible so for Sam to be recognised is just fantastic. Sam gives so much to so many and for a carriage horse to win this is just brilliant, we love him so much and for so many people to hear about his magic is phenomenal.”