Volunteers presented with the most prestigious RDA award

This year, 12 volunteers have received the most prestigious award there is in RDA, the President’s Award. The President’s Award stands as the pinnacle of volunteer recognition within the RDA, reserved for individuals who have displayed extraordinary dedication and service for a period spanning three decades or more.

RDA are proud to announce this years winners of the award, going to highly well-deserving volunteers from across the UK. Read on to find out about the winners and their exceptional service.

Angela Blott, Avon RDA
Angela Blott, Avon RDA

Angela Blott

Avon RDA, Mid West Region

Angela joined Avon RDA in 1989 and quickly established herself as an excellent arena volunteer, leading and side walking two days a week. It wasn’t long before she accepted the challenge of becoming a coach and she has continued in that role ever since, mentoring countless trainee coaches.

In the early days, alongside coaching, she rode regularly at the Centre getting to know the twenty five horses and ponies in the herd at that time, and working with the small yard team to complete stable duties – she still remains a very enthusiastic individual for whom nothing is too much to ask.

To support the Centre’s never ending fundraising challenges, Angela regularly took part in the exciting musical rides for Open days, Annual spring fayres and Autumn galas. The rides always had a theme allowing riders a chance to dress up and entertain the audience – the videos are still watched by many.

Over and above Angela’s riding and coaching, she was always the first to get involved in any fundraising activities, along with her husband Mike, running stalls at the Annual Spring Fair and Autumn Gala. She also crewed the Avon ‘Dragon Boat’ in the races organised by the Rotary Club in Bristol’s Floating Harbour to raise much need funds.

Her fundraising achievements at many events over the years have been nothing short of amazing, including her annual quiz nights. Angela continues to coach on a Tuesday afternoon.  From the outset she became a key member of the small but growing team, and she continues to challenge herself to support her riders progression and is an asset to Avon RDA.

“I have learnt so much and feel humbled by the positive attitudes of our riders and carers.”

Bovelle Hamilton - Omagh Group
Bovelle Hamilton - Omagh Group

Bovelle Hamilton

Omagh RDA, Northern Ireland

Bovelle was one of the founding members of Omagh RDA Group back in 1985. Over the past 30 years, Bovelle has been instrumental in the group’s growth and development. As a volunteer, coach, committee member, and trustee, she played key roles in expanding the facilities, acquiring paddocks, and building a new stable block. Her tenure as Treasurer involved extensive fundraising efforts to support the group’s activities. She has been a coach for 30 years working with hundreds of participants across the years.

Bovelle’s impact extends beyond coaching; she has trained numerous volunteers, facilitated the ASDAN training program, and cared for horses, including family ponies loaned to the group and retired horses. Her dedication and mentorship have ensured a robust future for Omagh RDA through the development of new coaches and committee members.

Omagh RDA is one of the largest groups still run entirely by volunteers, with over 60 participants a week, taking part in riding, stable management and therapy activities.  The level of involvement for a volunteer like Bovelle, who is active in all areas, is truly exceptional.  Bovelle’s legacy at Omagh RDA will be deeply cherished, and celebrated.

“I am delighted to be receiving the Presidents Award. It really means so much to me. I started with the RDA when I was asked by the local group if they could borrow my daughters pony who was very quiet and good with children. That was back in early 1990s. The first time I took him in and saw the enjoyment on the children’s faces, I was hooked! I have got such pleasure from watching the children laughing and improving every time they came in. It has been an absolute privilege to be involved with the RDA for so long.”

Cathy Costley-White, Avon RDA
Cathy Costley-White, Avon RDA

Cathy Costley-White

Avon RDA, Mid West Region 

Cathy joined Avon RDA’s volunteer team in 1990, quickly becoming a key member of the team and progressing to become an RDA Coach, organising regular riding lessons and musical rides for fundraising events.

Outside coaching, Cathy’s passion for gardening led her to contribute to local open garden events, selling plants and cakes to support the Centre. She also plays a vital role in annual Nativity and Carol Services, organising costumes and performances that unite her Group and the wider community. Cathy’s organisational skills result in the success of the Group’s musical ride displays at Gatcombe Horse Trials, where she always ensures everything runs smoothly, amid all the excitement.

Although she no longer coaches, Cathy remains an essential arena volunteer at Avon RDA and continues to support the Centre in her fundraising efforts. Recently, she secured her group as Charity of the Year for her Country Dancing Group.

Cathy is a highly respected figure at Avon RDA, known for her calm, thoughtful approach and advocacy for the benefits of RDA. Her empathy and extensive experience benefit everyone around her.

“I have always been horse and pony mad.  I became a special needs teacher, but after having children, I  was unable to return to teaching.  A friend suggested RDA and I have never looked back.  RDA has combined my two great loves, firstly  seeing the lives of disabled adults and children completely changed through being with horses and ponies and, secondly I get to work with the riders and horses too.”

Fiona Anderson

Berwickshire Group, Edinburgh & Borders Region

Fiona has been a loyal member of the Berwickshire Group since 1993, turning her hand to whatever is required. Fiona has shown levels of dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm way beyond that of her peers, and remains a lively member of the team.

Like others, Fiona’s journey started as a volunteer side-walker.  She quickly accepted additional responsibilities as a Trustee and Committee member, and trained as a Coach. In 2007, Fiona qualified as Group Coach for riding, which she did for many years until there was a move to increase vaulting opportunities and participant numbers.  Undaunted, Fiona relished the chance to become a Vaulting Coach, gaining her Lunging Certificate in 2015 and becoming a fully qualified Lunging Coach in 2016.  Fiona has developed a wonderful rapport with volunteers and continues to work with countless participants.

In addition to being a Group Trustee and Committee member, Fiona is a dedicated of the fundraising team, volunteering at various events and has taken lead responsibility for the Coffee Morning in her hometown.  Year in and year out, the event has proved to be a key source of funding.  Fiona is a highly organised person paying attention to detail and taking pride in everything she does.  Therefore, it was of no surprise that Fiona volunteered to take on the role as Safeguarding Officer and the critically important task of ensuring volunteers to fill in the necessary forms.

Fiona is a highly motivated, conscientious, positive person who works so effectively as part of the Berwickshire team, who recognise they are lucky to have her.

Gail Jarman, Avon RDA
Gail Jarman, Avon RDA

Gail Jarman

Avon RDA, Mid West Region

One of the original group of volunteers, Gail has been an integral part of Avon RDA since 1990, coaching and supporting riders of all abilities from beginners to competitive levels. She shares her expertise generously, from guiding trainee coaches to taking part in musical rides and fundraising events.

Gail facilitates hacks through woodland paths; as well as supporting riders in dressage and countryside challenge competitions at local and regional levels. Her dedication extends to participating in Mid-West Regional displays at Gatcombe Horse Trials.

She is an advocate of the benefits of the mechanical horse simulator for riders, and developed an innovative 18-month program using the simulator to improve the core strength, balance, and coordination. The success of Gail’s program was rewarded when one of the riders was able to safely transfer onto regularly riding a pony, and since then, other coaches have adopted her strategy.

Even after three decades, Gail remains an enthusiastic coach, continually expanding the Group’s activities. Her dedication to seeing her riders reach their goals in sessions and in competitions is amazing and continues to enrich the Avon Centre.

Jenna Leight - Bradbourne RDA
Jenna Leight - Bradbourne RDA

Jenna Leight

Bradbourne RDA, South East Region

Jenna has dedicated over three decades to training, inspiring, and supporting participants and volunteers. Beginning at the Bradbourne Group as a volunteer, Jenna quickly put herself forward to become an RDA coach. She has immersed herself in all aspects from teaching additional lessons as the Group grew, to organising events and competitions. Her roles expanded to include Group Trustee, Safeguarding Officer, and leading on equine welfare matters, demonstrating a commitment that extends beyond coaching.

As both Group and SE Region coach, Jenna has directly impacted hundreds of participants, helping them achieve beyond their expectations and helping them celebrate every achievement. She continues to advance her skills, currently training to become an Advanced Coach and plans to mentor future coaches and enhance RDA’s impact.

“After thirty years volunteering with the Bradbourne Group in Sevenoaks, Kent, I was surprised and very honoured to hear that I was to be a recipient of the President’s Award. It is wonderful to be recognised for my time as a helper, coach, County coach and now Regional coach over the years. It has been truly fulfilling and inspiring, working as a team with other volunteers and helping our participants to achieve personal goals alongside our amazing equines.”

Jenny Harris, Westmorland RDA
Jenny Harris, Westmorland RDA

Jenny Harris

Westmorland RDA, North Region

Jenny has been a dedicated volunteer with Westmorland RDA Group for over 30 years, contributing her skills in both carriage driving and riding. She began as a Group Coach before advancing to roles including Cumbrian County Coach and Regional Coach. Jenny’s commitment included travelling across the North Region, where she assessed groups and mentored new coaches, organised training days, and served as the Region’s Carriage Driving representative and National Assessor.

Her meticulous planning and preparation ensured seamless RDA sessions, maximizing volunteer engagement and participant achievement. Jenny specialised in Countryside Challenge, overseeing Regional Championships and judging at Nationals. Her knowledge and generosity of spirit have benefited countless volunteers and participants.

While Jenny and her much loved pony ‘Monty’ have retired, her involvement with Westmorland Group continues through organising major fundraisers. Jenny has made a lasting impact on RDA at all levels.

I had no idea what to expect when I went to have a look at my first RDA riding session.

“They were short of helpers so, having horse experience I was asked to lead a pony, no green cards in those days. Full training followed and, as I got used to everything, I really enjoyed being part of the team and seeing how much the riders were enjoying the sessions. And that has been my experience throughout RDA with both riding and driving, everyone, participants, coach and helpers all working together to achieve as much as they are able.  I have loved being part of it.”

Joy Claxton

Cobbes Meadow RDA, South East Region

Joy has been an advocate for carriage driving for disabled people since the late 1960s, predating the formal establishment of RDA Carriage Driving in 1975. She began her journey alongside the late Nancy Pethick at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where she assisted with driving activities using donkeys. This initiative later evolved into the Windsor and Ascot Carriage Driving Group in 1974. Joy went on to establish her own driving group for disabled drivers at Cobbes Meadow in 1983, a year before the site was inaugurated by Princess Anne.

Throughout her career, Joy has served as a Carriage Driving Assessor, RDA Carriage Driving Representative for the South East, British Driving Society Judge, Instructor, and Kent Chair. She has mentored numerous RDA Carriage Driving Coaches and continues to inspire with her enthusiasm and wisdom, even at 85 years old. Her artistic abilities and her works of art of carriages and harnesses are most detailed, as are her designs for fancy dress. She has authored several books about carriage driving, often including her beloved Dalmatians.

Joy remains actively involved at Cobbes Meadow, attending weekly driving sessions where she educates and instructs participants whilst awaiting their turn to drive. Her tactful and charming approach allows her to gently correct errors and offer constructive suggestions when needed.

Over the decades, in good health or otherwise, Joy has devoted herself to carriage driving and encouraged its spread within RDA regions and individual groups,  through practical support and advice. She has been invaluable to her Group and worth her weight in gold.

Lesley Morrill - Hope in the Valley
Lesley Morrill - Hope in the Valley

Lesley Morrill

Hope in the Valley RDA, South East Region

Lesley’s been a volunteer at Hope in the Valley RDA for fifty years. Her journey began in 1974 when she first arrived and ‘wondered if she could help’, and she has brought boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a wealth of equine knowledge to every role she’s undertaken since.

Having become an instructor she was among the first RDA coaches to achieve UKCC Level 2 in 2010. She went on to become a Group trustee, and later Chair, demonstrating exceptional leadership. She has cared for four group ponies at her own yard and transports two ponies to RDA weekly lessons.

Lesley’s coaching talent is evidenced in regional dressage competitions, where she has trained many riders to qualify for National Championships. She has organised and led eight group holidays at Clwyd, providing riders with new and enjoyable experiences. Lesley continues as Chair and coach, with the well-being of the riders, volunteers and ponies always at the fore-front of her mind

Her impact extends beyond Hope in the Valley. Over 20 years Lesley served the South East Region as County Coach for East Sussex, where she supported seven groups, trained and assessed coaches, led regional training days, and assisted in establishing the Eastbourne Group. In recognition of her outstanding service, Lesley received the Tora Bray Perpetual Trophy in 2017.

Lesley’s fundraising efforts are monumental. In 2006, she trekked to the summit of Mount Toubkal to raise funds for both RDA and Breast Cancer Research, despite a fear of heights and dislike for walking. At the age of 62, she took up running completing 50 marathons in 50 weeks to mark her group’s 50th anniversary and raise funds for RDA.

All of the above has been undertaken whilst raising a family, working as a librarian at Roedean School and running a busy livery yard — a feat perhaps attributed to her love of cake and caffeine! Lesley’s support and commitment to the Group and the SE Region is inspirational and exceptional. She embodies the spirit of RDA.

“Winning this award is just an amazing accolade. Over the many years as a volunteer in the RDA, I have had the great pleasure of meeting like minded professional Coaches, Physios and without doubt some fantastic riders and their families. I feel humbled that my peers at Hope in the Valley have taken the time and trouble to put together my nomination”.

Patricia Atkin - Helen Atkin Group
Patricia Atkin - Helen Atkin Group

Patricia Atkin

Helen Atkin RDA, North Midlands Region

Pat founded the Helen Atkin RDA Group in 1987, using the proceeds from her teenage daughter Helen’s funeral collection, in whose memory the Group is named.

Pat set about finding a chair and secretary, became treasurer and contacted RDA UK for advice on how to start up. Together they set up a small RDA group with ponies hired from Buxton Riding School and three riders. Pat was also a volunteer, helping the riders week in week out by leading the ponies and sidewalking.

In 1999, Pat trained as an RDA carriage driving coach and became the Group’s Carriage Driving lead, fundraising for a carriage and training her own pony for this purpose.

Carriage driving stopped when the pony became too old and Helen Atkin Group decided to concentrate their efforts on riding.  Last year, as Pat turned 80, she was asked if she would help the group restart its carriage driving activities. She immediately sprang into action with a promise to help in an  advisory capacity, but not as a coach. Needless to say she could not curb her enthusiasm and to the delight of the Group is now one of their carriage driving coach in training, and aims to become a fully qualified coach again.

For over 37 years, Pat has been fully committed to Helen Atkin RDA, supporting their volunteers and riders, and she is much loved by all. She has soldiered on without fail, despite personal loss, and her contribution to this Group has been of an exceptional nature.

“I will be so honoured and proud to receive the President Award, I would never believed when I started the Helen Atkin Group with two riders that that the group would grow with a weekly ride of 50, plus also passing as a coach for carriage driving, also with our lovely Indoor Arena built to ride in all weathers.”

Theresa Drake, South Buckinghamshire Group
Theresa Drake, South Buckinghamshire Group

Theresa Drake

South Buckinghamshire RDA, South Region

Theresa started volunteering at the Diamond Centre RDA when she was 14 years old, and has been part of the wider RDA family ever since. When starting out as a Speech and Language Therapist, she volunteered at the Stokeld Park RDA group, and along the way gained her BHSAI qualification. On moving to Buckinghamshire, she joined South Bucks RDA as a volunteer, later becoming a trustee and taking on roles including Safeguarding, Coaching, Health and Safety, and Training.

As well as being a highly specialised Speech and Language Therapist, Theresa coaches three times a week, having gained her RDAC qualification, and her UKCC Level 3. She is a Regional Coach, Regional Show Jumping representative, Coach Developer and a Countryside Challenge judge at Regional and National level. Theresa has also recently qualified as an Equine Facilitated Learning Practitioner.

Theresa does everything with good humour and empathy, in spite of her demanding NHS role, and is always ready to support her group, doing a huge amount of extra stable management to look after 13 horses and ponies whilst the South Bucks RDA Centre was without a yard manager.

Theresa’s impact extends across the South Region as a brilliant all-round trainer, adapting to new challenges including online delivery during the pandemic. Theresa has recently done a huge amount of work on the updated version of ‘Frequently seen medical conditions’ and has enabled it to be overseen by ACPEA and made available to all RDA Groups.

“Being given a President’s award is a great surprise and very humbling. The RDA has been a great part of my life ( and my family’s). I started as a junior volunteer with the Diamond Centre, through working with some inspirational coaches I was encouraged to go to University to study Speech and Language Therapy. I have been a volunteer with South Bucks RDA for 37 years. Where Di Redfern encouraged and supported my development as a coach, providing so many opportunities to learn.
As a volunteer I mix my skills as a riding coach and Speech and Language therapist to enable those I coach to develop not only in their riding but life skills and communication at the same time. Seeing riders develop and become confident young people gives me such a great thrill.
Sharing skills and passing skills on to others, is great for my wellbeing too, as is a few hours of poo picking! I love seeing both riders and young (and not so young) volunteers grow in confidence and independence.”
Venetia Kenney-Herbert, Lyncombe Lodge Group
Venetia Kenney-Herbert, Lyncombe Lodge Group

Venetia Kenney-Herbert

Chipping Norton RDA,  Mid West Region

Venetia’s equestrian journey began on the Somerset/Dorset Border, where she joined the Pony Club and assisted her mother, Stella Hayward, in starting the Hayward RDA Group in the 1960s. Moving to North Somerset in 1988, Venetia became deeply involved with the Lyncombe Lodge RDA Group from 1990, bringing her qualifications as a Pony Club Assessor and BHSAI coach. She became a Trustee and remains on the Lyncombe Lodge board today.

Venetia’s contributions extend to organizing RDA camps at her home ‘The Poplars’ and involving herself in regional dressage competitions and events including Sam Orde’s Big Ride at Gatcombe. She has facilitated Lyncombe Lodge’s participation in displays and competitions, including Bristol University, The Royal Bath and West Show, Gatcombe Festival of Eventing, and has represented RDA at Badminton Horse Trials. She has even secured suitable ponies from the Pony Club for regional and national events.

After relocating to Oxfordshire, Venetia joined Chipping Norton RDA as a coach, continuing to inspire participants in their equestrian adventures. Her dedication, fun-loving spirit, and reliability make her an invaluable asset, supporting fellow coaches and undertaking any task, large or small, to ensure the success and joy of RDA activities.

“Horses have always been a huge part of my life and it has been a great privilege to be able to share this with our RDA riders and experience the joy it gives them.”