93% of RDA participants still unable to return to riding

COVID restrictions mean most RDA groups remain closed.

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has launched a report into current activity levels following the easing of lockdown restrictions. The report shows that, although a third of all its member groups in the UK have been able to restart activities in some form, overall the charity is only working with around 7% of its usual participant numbers.

Ongoing restrictions and social distancing rules make it difficult for RDA’s member groups to provide the additional support that the majority of their riders need. This means that even if a group can restart, most of their clients will still be unable to return to riding. In addition, many RDA groups support schoolchildren who usually attend as part of their school day. With off-site activities like riding for therapy still restricted in many schools, these children are continuing to miss out on the multiple benefits that RDA activities deliver.

RDA carried out the study, supported by The Worshipful Company of Loriners and Howdens, to gain a clear picture of activity levels post-lockdown, and to understand better the different factors that have enabled some of its groups to restart, while the majority remain closed. Ultimately, RDA’s imperative is for the whole organisation (467 groups across the UK delivering activities to over 25,000 disabled children and adults) to get back to normal levels of activity as soon as possible.

Adapting and innovating

The 152 groups that have been able to restart activities in some form have overcome many challenges in order to welcome their riders back: meeting constantly changing COVID restrictions; familiarising volunteers with new procedures; training family members to be able to support riders; bringing horses back to fitness after lockdown and creating a safe environment for participants to return.

With some groups unable to carry out any of their normal riding or carriage driving activities, restarting has meant reimagining what RDA delivers – finding new ways for participants to benefit from their time with horses. The new ‘quiet corners’ are proving very popular, where clients get to spend some quality time with their favourite pony, and some are using their time at RDA for stable management and learning how to take care of horses.

Devastating impact

“Ultimately, we want a return to normal activity levels as soon and safely as possible, and for our participants to benefit from the physical exercise, boost to wellbeing and sense of community that RDA groups offer,” says RDA Head of Communication & Insight Caroline Ward. “A previous study we carried out during lockdown showed just how devastating the closure of groups has been on our clients’ physical and mental wellbeing. We are now 6 months into this crisis and 93% of our riders and carriage drivers are still unable to access our activities.”

RDA is supporting its groups as much as possible with guidance, training and support to facilitate the restarting of activities wherever possible, and is actively fundraising to continue this vital work. But with social distancing restrictions still in place – and local lockdowns on the increase – full recovery may still be months away.

Government consultation

RDA’s research will be submitted as evidence to the government inquiry looking at the future survival of the community sports sector.

“One thing that has come out most strongly in our research is the vital part played by volunteer-led RDA groups all over the UK in supporting disabled people in their local communities,” says Caroline. “For many people, RDA is their only opportunity for physical exercise and socialising each week. We provide access to activity, friends and the unique benefits of horses, and the role of our groups in tackling social isolation and inequality has never been more important.”

RDA is running a national fundraising campaign to respond, rebuild and recover from lockdown. The ‘Resilience’ campaign will enable RDA to develop practical solutions for adapted activities; provide advice, training and other services to help groups restart; as well as offer support for groups at risk and most affected.

Read RDA’s report ‘Activity Levels Post-Lockdown here:


Read RDA’s COVID impact report ‘RDA in lockdown’ here:


Donate to the Resilience campaign at rda.org.uk.

About RDA

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through horse riding, carriage driving and hippotherapy. Through a network of around 500 volunteer groups throughout the UK, RDA provides opportunities for therapy, achievement and enjoyment, improving health, wellbeing and self-confidence, and benefiting mobility and co-ordination.

  • RDA brings together 500 volunteer groups throughout the UK
  • More than 25,000 adults and children enjoy the benefits of riding or carriage driving
  • Each year more than 18,000 dedicated volunteers give a total of more than 3.5 million hours of their time

RDA is reliant on voluntary help, donations and legacies to deliver its services. Please donate now at rda.org.uk

RDA is a charity registered in England and Wales (No: 244108) and Scotland (No: SC039473).

For more information:

Please contact Caroline Ward, Head of Communication & Insight, RDA UK
cward@rda.org.uk or 01926 405968