Sometimes a chance encounter can change lives. Without knowing it, the direction we take can change, and we find ourselves on a path we might not be expecting. A meeting like this changed ‘Muirfield Riding for the Disabled’ (RDA) and took the charity in a wonderful, life-changing direction. Our Services Coordinator, and former longstanding Chair, Susan Law, tells the story.
“About 18 years ago I was at the Drum RDA group in Edinburgh and saw a young physiotherapist riding a pony with a child in front of her. I had never seen this before and was intrigued by this thing called back riding. To find out more about it, I sought out this physio, called Heather.
As luck would have it, Heather was working on a Hippotherapy (a specialist, very effective, form of physiotherapy on horseback) qualification, and needed a centre where she could work up her case work. She brought to us a little girl called Anna and we created a space for Heather to work with her on a Tuesday afternoon. We gave her a pony and a small team of volunteers.
This team quickly learned what was required of them and so our introduction to equine therapy in its true sense began. It was evident from the start that, working with Heather, we could properly evidence the impact we could make.
So, in return for use of our facilities, volunteers and our little therapy pony Smartie once a week, Heather had unwittingly signed herself up for 18 years of devotion to MRT! I know who came out of this deal best!!
The Children’s Therapeutic Riding Service
Most of Muirfield Riding Therapy (MRT) Volunteers and Coaches will have met Heather, but even if they have not they should be aware of the impact that she has had on how MRT has developed over its life. Heather was responsible for setting up the NHS Partnership session – The Children’s Therapeutic Riding Service – which runs on a Tuesday afternoon, the first such in Scotland.
(Heather and her NHS team, STV news feature November 2020)
Working with these sessions has resulted in Volunteers and Coaches raising their game to a more professional level. Certainly, the Tuesday afternoon team would say that the proof of the value of what they do makes them feel very proud.
(Photo of the MRT volunteers from the Children’s Therapeutic Riding Service, celebrating the 10th anniversary, virtually, during the pandemic 2020)
Coming from the NHS, Heather was used to measuring the difference that different types of therapy can make; from assessing an individual’s needs, coming up with a plan and recording the outcome. This was her world. But when equines are used as a therapy tool it adds many other dimensions and things can be achieved that can’t be replicated with traditional gym equipment.
Mentor and motivator
Of course, Heather has changed the lives of her patients and their families professionally but her 17 year connection with MRT has not been purely professional. She has also volunteered with our Friday afternoon session. Her support in this session has allowed us to offer riding therapy to children with more complex needs. Many of the children coming into the Friday session have progressed from the NHS sessions.
Working with Heather has motivated some of our young volunteers to go on to pursue careers in physiotherapy and medicine. She has willingly given time to support these young proteges. She has designed and delivered volunteer training materials and encouraged so many Volunteers over her time with us.
She has set up external courses to encourage more physio to take up an interest in Equine therapy and hippotherapy, using MRTs wonderful facilities. She has given Coaches and Volunteers the confidence to work with children whose conditions affect not only their lives but the lives of whole families, and she has given MRT the means to prove that the work we do is very valuable – appealing to funders, and providing us with statistics and scientific measurements.
A change of name
By 2010, we had become more confident that our activities could really make a difference and believed that the change of name to Muirfield Riding Therapy underlined the idea that, with expert input, we truly could affect changes in lives.
(Photos of a fun and simple, yet effective, visual measurement of walking gait improvement following a term of therapeutic riding; the left sets of footprints in each image are from the start of a term, and the right sets of footprints in each image is at the end of a term)
Using Physiotherapy and latterly Occupational Therapy principles, MRT has developed a therapy-led approach to the service it offers. This principle has resulted in a highly trained volunteer base, prepared to go out and about and tell others how proud they are to be a part of MRT.
A new life
Now Heather is spreading her work to a wider audience, travelling to South America, a part of the world she has long loved to run a hippotherapy centre. She has spoken of her wish to do this for several years but we hoped, selfishly, that the day would not come when she achieved this ambition. As a result of Covid we had her for 18 months longer than otherwise and we must be grateful for this.
(Photo of Heather on previous travels, providing therapeutic riding on a donkey).
It will not be the same without this little powerhouse who has guided – and driven maybe! – us in a way that has earned us the respect of the community, the NHS and the wider RDA world.
So now we must put aside our personal sadness at her leaving and share her enthusiasm and excitement for the next steps in her life…continuing to carry out very important work in a part of the world which has drawn her for many years.
Heather will leave a lasting imprint on MRT and the whole organisation should be aware of the impact she has had. When it became clear that she really was going on this grand life adventure, we set to to plan for her departure to put together her succession plan which will protect our precious service and enable us to continue to develop.
(Heather with two NHS physios she has mentored through their hippo therapy training here at MRT – Annika and Lizzie)
To do this we need as a group to continue to inspire and encourage volunteers and coaches that MRT can be a centre of excellence and stay at the forefront of equine facilitated therapy.”
Thank you Heather, good luck and haste ye back!
(Photo of Heather and Susan Law celebrating 10 years of our partnership with the NHS, The Children’s Therapeutic Riding Service)