August 12, 2020
Photos by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Stacey Rodrigues
(Photo above) Mr Hazrin Chong Abdullah, qualified equestrian coach and riding instructor at RDA Singapore has spent the last three decades working with horses and now helps riders with special needs.
As an Equestrian Coach, it was quite natural that I was keen to learn more about helping riders with special needs,” says Mr Hazrin Chong Abdullah, riding instructor with Riding for the Disabled Association Singapore (RDA Singapore).
RDA Singapore offers its equine-assisted therapy (hippotherapy) free of charge to its beneficiaries. The charity relies on donations to maintain its operations and keep the horses healthy.
“I’ve always enjoyed interacting with animals and found myself drawn to being around horses, especially the partnership that is formed between a rider and their horse,” said Mr Chong Abdullah, who has been horse riding since 1990, and started competing in Malaysia in the year 2000.
It is precisely that partnership that helps persons with disabilities develop physically and mentally.
(Above) Beneficiary Elijah, 12, has global development delay. After more than 20 sessions (10 sessions per term), his family has noticed the benefits of hippotherapy in his motor posture, control, social interaction and confidence.
While hippotherapy seems more like a leisure activity than formalised therapy, it does wonders for those with special needs. “There are so many ‘miracle’ stories about beneficiaries who make extraordinary improvements to their physical and cognitive abilities,” he said.
In some cases, wheelchair-bound beneficiaries are not able to sit up unassisted. One beneficiary had to sit on a high advanced wheelchair with neck support, and would flop back or forward and hit his head when he sat on the floor. After a few weeks of horse riding therapy, he had improved trunk and neck muscles and was able to hold up his head.
His family changed his wheelchair to a regular one without a headrest.
“I was looking for my next outdoor ‘adventurous’ activity at the time,” he said. Over time, I grew to love it and began competing, which eventually led to pursuing Equestrian Coaching Qualifications.”
“The horse allows them to be in control, to make decisions, to travel from point A to B. For the first time (for many) they are ‘capable’ and independent. It does wonders for their mental state.”
Long-time volunteer Ms Charlene Wong recounts a story of a girl who moved from riding while assisted to being completely independent. “She progressed so much she has returned to RDA (occasionally) to assist with stable work,” said Ms Wong.
“The beneficiaries enjoy being outside, something they don’t usually get to do. The bonus is actually being involved in an activity where they are the ‘stars’,” said Mr Chong Abdullah. “The horse allows them to be in control, to make decisions, to travel from point A to B. For the first time (for many) they are ‘capable’ and independent. It does wonders for their mental state.”
(Above) Ms Charlene Wong, 29, a volunteer with RDA Singapore (wearing green), is the leader who handles Elijah’s horse, while interacting with Elijah during his session. “ I really like horses so being able to be at the stables while volunteering with children makes it a win-win situation,” said Ms Wong. “My interest in volunteering has always been about empowering children with disabilities, so RDA is a great fit with the programme that it runs for the community.”
He first started volunteering with RDA Malaysia, helping out during therapy sessions, and has continued to support the disabled community through RDA Singapore.
He continues to train volunteers in both handling the horses and working with children with special needs.
“I have been honoured and blessed with having a front row seat to changes and improvements (of beneficiaries),” said Mr Chong Abdullah.
“Horses are a part of me. I can’t imagine life without them,” he adds. “What an amazing combination to be able to help people at the same time; to share knowledge that I have gained over the years — it is priceless.”