WITH smiles on their faces and the wind in their hair, members of Abingdon’s Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) group set out on their annual Ridgeway Ride.

But organisers say finding funding has never been so tough.

Now they are hoping Oxfordshire’s Jubilee Fund, supported by the Oxford Mail, could help them out.

Disabilities ranging from blindness to spina bifida, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, mean many riders who belong to the Abingdon RDA would normally be unable to try horse riding.

But thanks to the group and its 174 volunteers, many disabled people prove to be very able riders.

Group chairman Ann Barlow said: “Abingdon RDA dispenses a unique therapy to over 130 children and adults, whose ages range from two to 70.

“We have riders who are completely blind and have other very limiting physical disabilities who normally use wheelchairs, but they can all enjoy the experience of riding with a carer.”

One of the group’s annual highlights is its Ridgeway Ride, which sees different groups of riders covering 87 miles of The Ridgway over a week.

Among the riders taking part this year was 12-year-old Nyah Watson-Pill, from Didcot. She has cerebral palsy and has been riding for seven years.

Her Dad Nick, 37, said: “Nyah loves riding and when she is on a horse she has the same freedom and movement as an able-bodied child. The service the RDA provides is invaluable.”

Nyah, who attends Didcot Girls’ School, said: “I love riding and today I will be doing six miles.

“My pony is called Speckles and is grey.”

Feeding the charity’s 12 ponies and funding over 1,500 rides costs £70,000 per year.

Mrs Barlow said: “People are very generous with their time and while our volunteers, many of whom are teenagers, continue to support us, most people are finding things difficult financially.

“This is the first year we have asked the riders taking part in the Ridgeway Ride to pay £20 each to do it. And of course there are those who cannot afford it and we don’t expect them to pay.”

Jayne Woodley, chief executive of the Oxfordshire Community Foundation, which is steering the Jubilee Fund, said: “As the mother of an 11-year-old pony-mad daughter, I am well aware of the very special relationship that develops between young people and animals.”

  •  To donate to the Jubilee Fund or to volunteer to fundraise, email jubilee@oxfordshire.org, call 01865 798666, or drop into OCF’s offices at 3 Woodins Way, Oxford. To donate by phone, text JBLE 12 to 70070 with a donation. To apply for Jubilee Fund cash, visit oxfordshire.org For details on Abingdon RDA visit rda-abingdon.org.uk