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'Spend time around horses
'and you're bound to feel a connection
'with these beautiful animals.'
I've seen how horse riding can have a massive,
life-changing effect on the wellbeing of children
and adults with disabilities,
and that's because I'm involved with a charity that for decades has
improved hundreds of lives through horse riding,
and that charity is the Riding For The Disabled Association,
and I'd like to take just a few minutes now
to tell you just how impactful their work is.
'Sarah Pendleton was looking forward
'to becoming a parent with her husband Nick.
'I had a pretty normal pregnancy, relatively comfortable,
'with a nice little neat bump that everyone was busy admiring,
'and then suddenly I started getting these pains
'and everything speeded up terribly fast,
'and within three hours of arriving at the hospital she was born.
'Sarah's daughter Amy had arrived nearly three months early,
'and her life was hanging in the balance.
'It was quite shocking to see her in the incubator.'
She was absolutely tiny and very, very red
and breathing really, really, really fast.
'but the premature birth left her with a variety of difficulties.
'Amy was incredibly unstable. She had absolutely no core strength,
'so she would fall out of chairs all the time.'
She was like spaghetti, she would just wobble and then tumble down.
'Amy's problems made it hard for her when she started at nursery.
'She didn't start to walk, she didn't start to talk.
'There were so many things that she wasn't doing normally.'
"What was he to do?"
'She was falling further and further behind her peers at nursery.
'We were really worried about
'how much that was going to limit her enjoyment of life.'
Well, thankfully for parents like Sarah,
the Riding For The Disabled Association is there to offer hope.
Anyone with a physical or learning disability, however young or old,
can really benefit from time spent with the RDA's ponies and horses.
'I first heard about the RDA back in the Nineties,
'when I was making my show Challenge Anneka.'
I cannot believe the transformation
from the green field that was here yesterday!
'We were rebuilding a riding centre of theirs
'in a gritty corner of west London.
'And I was so moved by what I saw that I've been
'a supporter of the RDA ever since.
'The centre we built is still run
'by the horse-riding nun Sister Mary-Joy.'
Aw! Sister Mary-Joy, who set us the challenge 21 years ago.
-We're still alive! It's a miracle.
-Thank God for that, yes.
And it's lovely to see Robbie... Hi, Robbie.
..who was a youngster, was a teenager
-when we did that challenge.
-He was indeed.
-And he's still riding.
So, how could you sum up the benefits of riding for a disabled person?
People don't realise that they're not just sitting on a horse,
they're actually using their muscles.
Riding will help a child or an adult to develop core muscles,
which are so important for strength and stability.
The fact that they're with an animal so much bigger than themselves
and they're actually on the animal, then it will lead to confidence.
'The benefits are endless.'
'The RDA have centres all over the country.
'Amy's school suggested she might benefit from riding classes.
'I'd expected it to be a problem,
'physically getting her onto the horse
'and how on earth she'd balance on it,
'but as soon as she got on the horse she sat up straighter
'and she just beamed and something was working brilliantly for her.
'It was like magic.
'The trained coaches at the RDA have worked with Amy for a year now.'
The change in her has been just so astonishingly dramatic
in so many ways.
Her strength and her posture are just so hugely improved.
# If you're happy and you know it Tap your hats!... #
'She was so unstable,
'and she fell all the time, and now she's much more stable.
'She can run, and she's starting to learn to jump.
'Academically, it's made her more able to focus in class,
'to listen to instructions, to sit still at the table and work.'
'I think also for her it's wonderful to have something
'that's she's just so good at
'and she can really enjoy and feel herself
'when she's on the horse.'
The amount of progress she's made through horse riding has
really made us think that, you know, she can be like all the other kids
and she can have, you know, any future she wants.
It's really, really wonderful.
'And horse riding can also become a lifelong passion.
'Sophie Christiansen was born with cerebral palsy,
'a condition that means she only has limited control of her limbs.
'But after a childhood of riding with the RDA, she went on to represent
'the UK at three Paralympic Games, including London 2012.
'I remember going into my first test
'and seeing the backdrop of Greenwich Park.
'And I thought,'
"I'm actually here!
"Oh, no, I've got a job to do. Get a grip!"
'It was just amazing.
'Sophie went on to win three gold medals,
'but it's been a long road to Paralympic victory.
'As a child, Sophie had difficulty with movement,
'relying on walking aids and a punishing routine of physiotherapy.
'Life was tough at school, too.'
When I was little, I used to be really shy of my disabilities,
especially my speech.
You know, at school it was quite difficult talking to other kids.
I worried that they wouldn't understand me that well.
'Sophie's school suggested she visit a local RDA centre.'
I just fell in love with riding and horses.
I remember having a sense of being free
'when I was on a horse.
'I could almost forget about the difficulties that I faced in life.'
So it gave me the skill to really believe in myself.
Without the RDA, I would not be a gold medallist,
and being an elite athlete has given me so much in my life.
'Every single member of equestrian Team GB at the London Paralympics
'started out riding with the RDA.
'But the aim of the RDA isn't just to create Paralympians.
'This charity gives disabled people the chance to find
'a better quality of life in so many ways.'
Riding has been the most amazing thing for Amy,
and there would have been no way for her to do riding like this,
nor would we have known how amazing riding could be for her
if it weren't for the RDA.
-And there will be a high five for you!
The RDA really does transform lives in the most amazing way,
because they understand that horses have the power to heal.
But they're in constant need of funds to support this work,
because they'd like to offer the chance to ride
to many more disabled people.
This is where you come in.
Please give what you can, and let's try and make this dream a reality.
Please go to the website - bbc.co.uk/lifeline -
where you can donate.
To give by phone, call 0800 011 011.
Calls are free from mobiles and landlines.
You can also donate £10 by texting SUPPORT to 70121.
Texts cost £10 plus your standard network message charge,
and the whole £10 goes to the RDA.
Full terms and conditions can be found at bbc.co.uk/lifeline.
Or if you'd like to post a donation,
please make your cheque payable to RDA and sent it to Freepost,
BBC Lifeline Appeal, writing "RDA" on the back of the envelope.
And if you want the charity to claim Gift Aid on your donation,
please include an e-mail or postal address
so that they can send you a Gift Aid form.