For many of us, riding is exercise and brings fun. But for people with a disability, riding is therapeutic because it provides great help physically and psychologically, says Gerald Kuh, general manager of the Riding for the Disabled Association.
'Horses are non-judgmental. They don't discriminate against people because they have a disability. So riding helps the disabled with their self-esteem, and the motion brought by riding stimulates their body and mind,' Kuk said.
An hour of riding is equivalent to 20 hours of physiotherapy because it works the whole body rather than just parts of it. The sense of speed as the disabled are riding on horseback empowers the riders.
Riding also raises the self-esteem of the disabled - giving them a certain status in the family as they also had their own activity along with their siblings, Kuh said.
The association, with centres in Tuen Mun, Pok Fu Lam and Lo Wu, is providing 32 riding lessons a week to more than 1,000 disabled riders. It uses horses to treat those with physical or mental disabilities, and autistic children. Lessons are free.
A number of disabled are on the association's waiting list to join the riding lessons. There have been 115 applications to the Tuen Mun centre, while 51 applicants are on the list at Pok Fu Lam. Eighteen ponies are used for the lessons - some are approaching retirement, and the association wants to buy three new ones.
'It will take some time to train the ponies. So although all the 18 horses are still in good shape, we will have to start preparing for the time that some of them have to retire. For the sustainability of our service to the disabled, we have to buy new ponies,' Kuh said. The charity has already secured support from Operation Santa Claus to buy three ponies.
Operation Santa Claus is an annual fund-raising campaign organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK. It has identified 16 Hong Kong-based charities aiming to provide timely assistance to the needy in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Since being set up in 1988, Operation Santa Claus has supported more than 100 different charities.
Kuh stresses that while the disabled are the direct beneficiaries of the association's riding lessons, the benefits extend to entire families.
'For us, smiling is a part of our life. But for parents whose children have disabilities, seeing their kids smiling means a lot.' he said.
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