Not many organisations can claim to help both children and animals, while taking no profit and providing an invaluable life experience. However, the Horse Rangers Association (HRA) has been doing exactly that for 60 years. The Gaitpost discovered more about this inspiring charity as it prepares for Founders Day on 21st February 2015.
Horse Rangers experience caring for a horse and learn to understand the anatomy and mechanics behind the animal in a structured and supportive environment. They develop a sense of duty and care, social skills, responsibility and general life skills. It all counts towards the Duke of Edinburgh award and being a Horse Ranger requires a high level of commitment. The discipline of early morning starts, neat uniforms and aspects of stable care, provides skills for later life. It prepares children interested in equine careers, such as Veterinary and even the British Racing School.
Horse Rangers, approved by the British Horse Society, has a long waiting list which keeps membership at a level safe for the horses and the activities. The bond between horses and humans has helped transform the lives of thousands of young people over six decades. Founded in 1954 by entrepreneur and businessman, Raymond Gordon, the organisation was originally based at Shepperton in Middlesex. His vision was to enable young people, who would not otherwise have the opportunity, to learn horsemanship and stable management. The charity’s original patron was Princess Margaret.
The charity relocated to the stables of Hampton Court Palace at the Royal Mews, East Molesey, Surrey during the 1960s. Princess Michael of Kent is now the patron and regularly attends their shows and gymkhanas. It’s a unique organisation in that it’s not a riding school but the 30 animals are used to help 400 Rangers, of all backgrounds and abilities, from the age of eight in their own personal development. HRA is always looking for more horses that meet their requirements. They come from a variety of sources; many are retired police horses.One the horses, Marmalade, became a star when it was used for the poster of the musical ‘War Horse’.
The HRA is organised into seven uniformed squadrons which meet weekly to learn their skills as they work towards gaining their badges and ranks. Two of the squadrons are dedicated to special needs children, at the indoor school at the nearby Stockyard in Bushy Park where there are also 5 paddocks. This operation comes under the umbrella of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA)
Many children with special needs, including those with autistic spectrum disorders, have discovered the therapeutic power of horses. The children’s lives are
enhanced through a mix of education and fun. The interaction with each other and animals is invaluable and improves confidence as well as providing emotional benefit to children who may need more support in their day-to-day lives.
According to Heather Mower, a Ranger of 40 years: “There are many forms of autism and horse riding benefits all of the children. They are using their limbs, concentration and awareness and getting used to other people.
“A lot of them are shy at first, being with people they don’t know, but they start responding, and each week we get more and more results. The horses keep them calm.”
She noted that one nine-year-old girl had never spoken in her life until she said the word ‘horse’ after attending sessions.
The HRA relies on volunteers to deliver all its activities. Many volunteers have been involved with the charity since they learnt to ride through it when they were children themselves. Alice Wintle, HRA’s volunteer’s manager and fundraiser says “Our 250 volunteers won The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service this year. With them, and the generous support of sponsors and donors, so many children benefit from our work.”
The Horse Rangers Association is self-funded, depending on sponsorship, fundraising and charitable donations along with small voluntary monthly subscriptions. Horses are expensive to keep but they offer children something unique in regards to the areas of interaction, engagement, confidence and self-esteem.
Another aspect of the HRA’s community outreach is in offering special “Horse Ranger for the Day” events to Young Carers who are given some much-needed respite from the family chores.
Regular events, such as demonstrations by its Musical Ride display team – coached and choreographed by Alistair Blamire, a trainer for the Metropolitan Police’s mounted division – help generate funds.
The HRA’s 60th Anniversary video gives more of a flavour of what the charity achieves: http://horserangers.com/html/horse_rangers_video_60_years.html
Founder’s Day is a permanent fixture in the HRA diary and this year takes place on February 21st. Around half of the Rangers, some 200, along with a selection of horses will leave the Royal Mews at 1.45pm to make their way through Bushy Park and into the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. There, they will parade in front the impressive building where the public can watch. Invited guests and Rangers then go to The Chapel Royal for a special service in memory of the man who started the charity. Do come along and support the amazing work of the Horse Rangers Association if you are in the area.
You can share regular updates from the charity by liking their Facebook page and by following them on Twitter.