Why Countryfile was on the Surrey equestrian trail in Cranleigh

The Countryfile team filming at Cranleigh RDA

The Countryfile team filming at Cranleigh RDA - Credit: Various

Editor-in-chief at Horse&Rider magazine, which is based in Grayshott, Alison Bridge brings us all the latest from the Surrey horse world...

The Cranleigh RDA helps countless riders to enjoy their hobby

The Cranleigh RDA helps countless riders to enjoy their hobby - Credit: Various

Did you see the BBC TV show Countryfile in mid-January?

I was delighted that the ‘star county’ was Surrey, and thrilled when horses popped up regularly. And then I was unexpectedly moved when presenter, Helen Skelton, overcame a longstanding fear of riding – caused by one too many falls in the past – at the wonderful Cranleigh Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Centre. She cried tears of joy as she rode a patient bay pony across a field to meet fellow presenter John Craven. A true horse lover, she said: “I am so relieved and happy to be on the back of a horse again.”

Therapeutic riding

Little miracles like these happen all the time, thanks to the RDA. At the Cranleigh centre, Countryfile also filmed Sally Jones who has a rare neurological condition. The centre organiser and chairman Lizzie Harrison explained: “We talk about riding for the disabled, but really it’s therapeutic riding. It’s the environment, the horses who themselves can be very emotionally calming, and the physical therapy of sitting on the horse.” And Sally looked so comfortable and relaxed as she followed the instructions she would have found difficult on the ground. That’s the big thing about RDA. As stroke survivor Charles Wimbledon said: “The biggest thing is getting back to being normal. You’re no longer floundering around; you’re on the back of the horse, in control.” As he rode around the centre’s indoor school, he looked more than in control – he looked a pretty nifty rider. Though based in Cranleigh, this RDA group offers therapeutic riding to over 200 disabled adults and children, from a wide area around Guildford. There’s a huge age range, right up to a lady in her 80s who has ridden all her life but now has such bad arthritis that she prefers to get her horse fix at the RDA centre.

Conquering fears

From it’s appearance on Countryfile, it looks a wonderful place with lovely, well-cared for horses. The Countryfile presenter Helen spent all day with the group, meeting with riders and volunteers and learning more about the wide range of therapeutic benefits delivered by RDA. “I love everything about horses but the trouble is I’ve had a few falls,” explained Helen. “I didn’t ride for years because I was too afraid, and then when I got back in the saddle two years ago, unfortunately I had another fall. It’s a shame because I’m officially the person who travels all over the world doing mad things and crazy stunts.”

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She confessed that she felt embarrassed about bringing what she described as her ‘insignificant’ fear of riding to the centre. However, Lizzie told her: “Mental trauma is very significant,” but explained that with a supportive environment and sympathetic, expert help, there was every chance of her recovering her confidence.

Helen was then given the chance to overcome her fear of riding with help from one of the RDA’s top coaches, Doug Smith, who encouraged her to get back in the saddle. Doug himself was seriously injured in the course of duty as a mounted policeman, and had to retire, so he has inside knowledge of the perils and joys of riding.

He picked a calm, kind pony for Helen to ride, and said: “Robbie’s what I call an economical horse. He won’t use an ounce of energy when half an ounce will do.”

Helen mounted in the school looking terrified and Robbie and Doug worked their magic. “Deep breaths, Helen,” said Doug. “Trust me and trust him. Sit there and enjoy.” Helen gradually relaxed, her eyes brimmed over and she was soon beaming from ear to ear. Eventually, she felt confident enough to ride out in the fields – she looked like all her birthdays had come at once!

Show your support

The Cranleigh RDA Group is a charity entirely funded by donations and run by volunteers, so if you can give money or help out (or both!) they would be very grateful. Their sponsored ride, to raise funds for the group, will take place this Good Friday, April 18, over 11 miles of lovely Surrey countryside, with a three-mile route for the smaller rider. For more information, visit cranleighrdagroup.co.uk.


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