Princess admires Ravenswood's easy riders


Two Special Olympians impressed the Princess Royal with their riding skills during her visit to the stables at Ravenswood in Berkshire.

Eighty service users enjoy weekly lessons in horse care, dressage and riding skills at the Norwood-affiliated village, which houses 175 people in 120 acres of grounds.

Arriving by helicopter, the princess was at Ravenswood in her role as president of the Riding for the Disabled Association. Residents and care staff lined the path to the stables, waving Union Jacks in the sunshine.

She spoke with staff at the stables, petted the five horses and met Special Olympians Philip Lee, 48, and Amy Collins, 19. Service users put on a display of dressage and carriage driving and the princess presented rosettes to all the riders.

Mr Lee - who was part of the dressage demonstration on his horse Dizzie - won silver and bronze medals at the 2009 Games and is in training for the 2013 event.

"I still wear my medals a lot," he said. "It was very exciting to meet the princess, but I was nervous just before I went on. I was proud to show her Dizzie."

Carriage driver Michael Banbury was among recipients of RDA "Over and Above" certificates for his commitment to the stables. He has been involved for more than 20 years, taking gold and silver at the 1998 Special Olympics. He later presented the princess with a collage of a horse, made by the Ravenswood art class. "She was thrilled to bits with it," he reported. "I expect she'll hang it in her house, but I hope she shows it to the Queen."

The Ravenswood Equestrian Centre was built in 1997. Five years later, a donation of £63,500 from the Petplan Charitable Trust enabled the construction of an Olympic-size all-weather paddock. The current and past stables have been home to 15 horses and two donkeys over the past 25 years and now house five horses and two carts. One is owned by carriage driver Andrew Garfield, who rode his horse Garfield International to his barmitzvah.

Special Olympians are trained by Vanessa Gordon, Ravenswood's stables manager for 31 years, who says the facility also has therapeutic benefits for those who do not get in the saddle. "It is a calming place for people. Many are really affectionate towards the animals. Even those who can't ride enjoy being around them."

Riders were helped both physically and psychologically. "If you can imagine how a horse moves, think about how a person in a wheelchair gets a totally different sensation to what they've experienced before. A horse moves side to side, moving your whole body equally - it improves core stability and co-ordination.

"It's a self-esteem thing, too. If you're in a wheelchair, people are always talking down to you. You're never at eye height and that can be very frustrating. If you're on a horse, or in the cart, you're suddenly at eye level. It's a real confidence builder. We have had people who barely used to leave the house before they came here."

Norwood chief executive Norma Brier was delighted by the royal recognition. "As a former Olympian, Her Royal Highness will understand the value of sport to self-esteem and confidence. Through specialised equipment and hours of patient training, our dedicated stable staff and volunteers are able to provide a large number of people with a fantastic range of opportunities for therapy and enjoyment."

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