‘Thank you for the memories’

RDA launches Dementia project to open up the sensory world of horses

Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is launching a nationwide project to support more people living with dementia. With sessions focussing on sensory experiences with RDA horses and ponies, initial feedback among pilot groups has shown a positive impact for both guests and their families.

Several RDA groups already provide experiences for people with dementia, including ‘Tea with a pony’ at Cotswold RDA in Cheltenham, ‘Golden Hour’ at Kesteven in Lincolnshire and sessions at Avon Riding Centre in Bristol and Beechley Stables in Liverpool. The project will encourage more of the charity’s groups around the UK to get involved by providing a framework for possible sessions, best practice and advice.

At Cotswold RDA, ‘Tea with a Pony’ has been running since 2018 and the group has seen a wide range of benefits to guests. “It seems that spending time with horses unlocks fond memories from a time when horses were a more familiar part of people’s lives,” explains RDA’s Head of Therapy, Denise Robertson, who is heading up the project.

One family member reflected on her mother’s experience: ‘it seems to have helped her memory, I’m not sure how, but it has and, more than anything, it’s been like a light has turned back on again. It’s the warmth of an animal, an animal that trusts you – the present fades away and it takes her back to just warm memories.’

The project comes amid growing demand for RDA’s activities, and updated guidance from NICE on the use of animal assisted activities as a suitable treatment for people living with the condition. “We gathered together representatives from our groups where this work is already taking place,” explains RDA’s Head of Therapy, Denise Robertson, who is heading up the project. “Our mission is to create and deliver fulfilling experiences with horses for people living with dementia or other disabilities – and to deliver these experiences in a supportive, safe and inclusive environment for clients, their carers, our volunteers and horses.”