RDA 2021 Awards

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who submitted nominations for so many incredible individuals. Each and every one of them was worthy of winning. After much deliberation the winners of the RDA 2021 Awards have been decided. We will never be able to thank our incredible volunteers enough, enabling us to change lives. Who will you nominate next year?

Volunteer of the Year 2021 – Sharon Garner 

“I’m sure that Sharon would think of herself as just one volunteer out of many, but over the past 18 months she really has put her heart and soul into making sure our group – Wenlo RDA – has been able to weather the pandemic, even when facing personal challenges in addition to the restrictions of COVID-19. When the first national lockdown was brought in, our host riding school had to immediately close and lost all of its income. This meant that we had to find the money to pay for the upkeep of our own horse, Charlie, and also other horses that we took on loan. Our Trustees knew that there would be no future for our group without the experienced, well-trained horses that our riders and volunteers have built relationships with over many years. With the riding school forced to close and no other source of income available to it, our horses’ future was by no means assured. A dedicated team of RDA volunteers saw to it that our horses were cared for and exercised on a daily basis throughout the first and subsequent lockdowns, but of course not all of our volunteers – including Sharon – were in a position to do this. Unable to take part in her usual volunteering sessions with RDA, and finding herself confined to her home, she picked up the phone – and took on the job of trying to find grants and support to keep our group running. Not only did Sharon step outside her comfort zone and learn to successfully navigate the complexities of grant applications – securing vital funding from Sport England, the Cooperative Society and the National Lottery amongst others – when she learned that supplies in our hay barn were starting to run low she got on the phone again. Through Sharon’s efforts, local suppliers have kindly provided us with haylage and feed to help us through the toughest times. Thanks to Sharon’s remarkable talent for building relationships, one of those suppliers now sponsors us by donating haylage for our RDA horses and ponies on an ongoing basis. 2020 was the 30th anniversary of our group, but COVID meant that all our planned events – and vital fundraising – could not happen. Some of our volunteers, including Sharon, decided to set up a month-long 30th Anniversary Challenge event in which our participants and volunteers could take part. We asked as many people as possible to take on a personal “challenge” for sponsorship, every day in November. Just as the Challenge was about to begin, the second UK Lockdown was announced! Others might have decided to postpone or even cancel the challenge – but not Sharon! She made sure the event could go ahead, finding ways for our participants to complete their personal sponsored challenges even when confined to their own homes, sharing their successes on a specially set up Instagram feed. The event saw our riders and supporters take part in a wide range of activities – horsey and non-horsey (one of our RDA riders, confined to home again due to the lockdown, even learned to do his ironing!) and was a huge success.    As well as a much-needed boost to finances – at a time when we still had the ponies’ upkeep to cover – the 30th Anniversary Challenge provided a way for our participants, volunteers and supporters to have a little fun and try something new. But it was also a way of keeping everyone in our group in touch and involved during the dark days of the November lockdown.    As we moved forward into 2021, Sharon just hasn’t stopped – even when coping with personal issues including a badly broken leg, and the loss of her mother. She really is like the Duracell Bunny! She continues to chase for every grant she can – she’s secured us grants large and small to contribute towards ongoing projects and equipment.     She’s also, through sheer determination and persistence, secured practical support from local companies for ongoing projects like a local quarrying company who are now providing materials and labour for our new “hack track” to allow our RDA riders to enjoy riding in the countryside and which may even enable some of them to take part in RDA Endurance. The hack track is something we have been working towards for years, but sometimes it has seemed like an impossible dream. Thanks to Sharon, it’s now becoming reality.    Sharon really has lived out the RDA motto of “it’s what you CAN do that counts”.

Young Volunteer of the Year – Ava Sharp

Ava started riding at Wenlo RDA Group 5 years ago, she rode in mixed intergraded lessons where RDA participant’s ride with able bodied.  When she reached her 12th Birthday she asked if she could be considered as a RDA volunteer when she was old enough. She attended every Saturday without fail to learn alongside the older girls how to tack up, assist with bringing horses to and from the school, fetching special equipment in order to complete her green card.    Then it happened the first LOCKDOWN!    Ava’s parents agreed she could assist with the looking after of the ponies, to enable the older and vulnerable volunteers to stay at home. This is where she became a different person, no longer was she the quiet, shy, young girl who came  every week. She grew into a confident young person taking her volunteering seriously. She could come while they were off school in lockdown as long as her school was done and kept up to date, she agreed to this with enthusiasm. She came on a regular basis to groom, ride and care for our smaller ponies who were too small for adults to ride. This brought her confidence and knowledge on in leaps and bounds. When were able to start doing sessions again, we had more training, she became an amazing skilled leader (all 3 stages) who seems to pre-empt what was going to be asked. Not only can she lead and run with the smaller ponies Jimmy the 15.3  gelding seems like putty in her hands. she has never stopped absorbing information and new skills. she has become an amazing side-walker who can run for what seems endless laps and still talk to the rider too. Nothing is too much trouble, she’s been learning basic Makaton.  Ava’s now taking private lessons and doing dressage competitions so she can help, lead and explain to our riders what we are working towards for their tests for our regional and National championships.  We also have a number of DofE participant’s (new volunteers) who she is mentoring. Last November for our Wenlo Challenge she was sponsored to do an a lesson bareback for an hour. Whenever you need her she’s there.  Ava shows great leadership and maturity beyond her years, she behaves responsibly and professional at all times and would never let you down. She is an amazing communicator with our young participants’ with ASD. She demonstrates commitment and  loyalty to the group and fellow volunteers, her friendly helpful attitude means people are willing to approach her for guidance and she’s always happy to help.    She is the Mrs. Five Star of the Future!

Participant of the Year – Millie Smith

Millie Boo has cerebral palsy which affects her mobility, and severe hearing loss, and began riding with Equi-Power in January 2019.  Initially Millie was very nervous and tearful, and preferred to remain on a lead rein having previously been hurt in a bad fall at another establishment. Millie’s coaches worked quietly to build her confidence, and by May 2019 Millie was riding confidently off lead rein and won both the tack and turnout prize and qualified for the RDA National championships in her dressage class.  Meanwhile when a physiotherapist provided feedback that Millie would benefit from the largest possible surface area to support her muscles, Millie was offered the opportunity to try equestrian vaulting as well as riding. Millie took very quickly to vaulting and competed with such success at the British Equestrian Vaulting competitions that she was awarded a trophy for their most improved competitor, and in June 2019 she performed with our team of vaulters at the prestigious Royal Highland Show     In the past year when riding and vaulting were paused due to national lockdowns, Millie Boo did not let circumstances prevent her from following her passion. Studying via the online platform Zoom, Millie gained her RDA Horse Care Level Three and Four Awards, Her BHS Horse Knowledge parts One and Two, the BHS Horse Health Challenge Award, and an RDA E-learning certificate in Equine knowledge. As a volunteer for Equi-Power, Millie completed the Virtual Kiltwalk during lockdown and was part of a team that raised £20,000 for our group. She has been recognised twice by Youth Scotland Hi 5 awards for volunteering, and been recognised by the National Saltire Award scheme. Despite losing muscle tone and strength during lockdown, Millie has returned to riding and vaulting with determination and confidence in 2021. She attends in all weathers, and having embraced all that technology has to offer during lockdown had no qualms about filming a dressage test for this year’s RDA National Championships. She has once again qualified for the championships in both dressage and arts and crafts. As a group we have been so impressed by Millie’s achievements, courage, resilience, team spirit, adaptability during lockdowns, commitment to learning, commitment to volunteering and commitment to riding and vaulting. She is a shining example to other participants and we feel she thoroughly deserves recognition. 

RDA UK Volunteer of the Year – Dawn Whitmore-Kirby

Dawn is an amazing lady who always makes time for everyone from her volunteers, the participants and their families as well as the greater good of the RDA organisation.  Dawn is the Regional Coach for RDA and always takes on additional responsibilities for the organisation, often hosting Zoom calls within the region. She was at the forefront of pushing for the RDA participants to be able to continue to ride despite lockdown restrictions- taking on and challenging the rulings with MP’s and governing bodies to successfully allow some of her riders who were able to ride independently to continue to do so within Covid safety guidelines.  Part of this also saw Dawn use multi- media platforms, appearing on both local radio and television to help promote the work of the RDA and the difference that this wonderful organisation has on everyone involved- enriching lives through horses. Her determination and drive to help get her participants back into the saddle saw Wenlo become one of the first RDA groups to reopen. Her video with guidance on how to implement a safe return not only helped settle the nerves of riders and volunteers, but also helped other groups to return to the saddle safely. Dawn has run workshops with other groups to support and train volunteers to work safely within COVID guidelines. She has been at the forefront of the virtual championships sharing information and tips with other groups to make sure they didn’t miss deadlines and give advice and support and she has seen 12 of her participants out of 20 qualify for the National Championships. Nothing is too much trouble for Dawn- this is not her role but her calling. She really is a great advocate for the RDA and a wonderful role model. Her ethos that when you mount a horse your disability disappears and your abilities appear resounds throughout her team but I would go one step further and say when you step onto her yard the disabilities disappear.

Horse/Pony of the Year – Smudge

He’s a 12.2 dude and at 30+ years old is still doing his stuff at RDA Glasgow Group.  Smudge has been with RDA Glasgow Group for at least 25 years, and for many of our youngest participants is the first pony they have ever sat upon.    As a long serving therapy pony, Smudge as done it all. Smudge was one of two driving equines at our centre, having been passed for driving in 1997.   Sadly he no longer drives, but he does enjoy long reining hacks round our onsite trail and to our local park.  When he did drive, he delighted school classes every Christmas , dressed as Rudolf, bringing Father Christmas to visit the children.    Smudge has been a hippotherapy pony at our centre for many many years.   After the break due to Covid, as soon as hippotherapy was allowed to go ahead, Smudge was there.  He is a star with the tiniest of hippo patients – decked out in a sheepskin or poly pad he provides a steady and active therapy session. Rarely pulling a grumpy face as riders are sat sideways or lying on their tummies reaching for his tail – he stands with the patience of a saint until his cue to walk on.  The PPE required for hippotherapy posed no issues to Smudge, as he is simply (unlike the plastic aprons required by his human helpers/therapist) unflappable.    Smudge has supported riders at Regional dressage and Countryside challenges.  He takes part in group fundraising (whether it’s a Kiltwalk, with the obligatory tartan of course, or providing pony rides to the community at our fun days). He is regularly featured on our Facebook page (usually in a costume) and is our most recognized poster boy (he is the star of one of our most used photographs at the Centre).  During lockdown, Smudge ran a series of online quizzes for our participants and volunteers. He also gave updates on what life was like on the yard during lockdown and the changes we’ve had to put in place to safely welcome back riders and volunteers.      Smudge is (as are all our equines) visited regularly by students and staff from Glasgow University Vet School and has participated in workshops held by the local BHS branch (everyone who meets him can’t believe how well and fit he is).  Just last week Smudge took part in a number of activities as part of our local Pony Club camp, which uses our centre every summer.  If it wasn’t for his growing number of grey hairs on his face you’d have been hard pushed to guess his age!      Over the years Smudge has seen many horses and ponies come and go.  In recent years he lost two of his best friends, but with the love and care from the staff and his volunteering fans (of which he has many!) he continues to remain fit, healthy and most importantly enjoying what he does.  If we could have a yard of 20 (perhaps slightly younger) Smudges from 12.2 to 16.2 we would a very lucky Group indeed! 

Page Last Updated: September 21, 2021