THE Riding for the Disabled Association has long been one of my favourite charities.

Many years ago, I worked with my local group as a volunteer and now the yard where I keep my own pony is home to the Stokesley branch of the association.

This year, however, has been particularly auspicious for the RDA as South Essex Insurance Brokers has now decided to include a class specifically for RDA riders as part of the increasingly popular Search for a Star competition.

This class will run alongside the well-established classes for able bodied riders, with qualifying heats held throughout the country.

Claire Robinson, founder and chief instructor for the Stokesley RDA group, had this to say about the group.

“It is so special to see that the showing world is now working with the RDA and formally recognising our talented and dedicated RDA riders and ponies,” she said.

“To see them included in a competition of this standard is such a wonderful accolade.

“The RDA is not about what we can’t do, it’s about what we can do.

“It’s about providing exercise for the rider which in turn improves muscle tone, balance and co-ordination, which all helps to promote self-esteem.”

Throughout 2017 there will be three Search for a Star qualifying heats, with the two highest placed riders from each one going forward to the final, which will take place at Addington Manor in September as part of the British Show Horse Association Hunter Championships.

The first qualifier took place last month at Osbaldeston in Lancashire and it was lovely to see such

well-schooled, quality animals with good conformation, paces and movement.

Even better, though, was when the first two RDA riders in the country to qualify for this prestigious competition both hailed from Yorkshire, one of whom from our very own Stokesley group.

In a strong class, Kathryn Wheelock, from Otley, was placed first with second place going to Kayla Pratt, from Stokesley, riding our very own Hunky Dory.

To complete the day Phoebe Whitfield, another Stokesley group member was also in the ribbons riding Little Tinkerman.

Phoebe and ‘LT’ were fourth, just missing out on a qualification this time, but giving a very good account of themselves nonetheless.

What is even more amazing is the fact that LT found his way to the RDA via British Horse Society Welfare. Just like Dory, LT was ultimately selected as an RDA pony due to his attitude to work, temperament, way of going and conformation and yet, at just two years of age, this pony was abandoned on a road and seized by the police.

Happily, we can confidently say that show ring success hasn’t gone to the heads of either LT or Dory and both are still very much at home in their day jobs at the riding school where they both live and work and like other RDA members all over the country, they are also busy working towards the National RDA Championships which will take place at Hartpury in July.

So a busy year lies ahead for RDA riders everywhere, but come September, at Addington Manor, some very smart ponies and riders will be flying the flag for equestrianism at its best, and whatever the result I am sure that on the day everything will be hunky dory.