A night of celebration at RDA Gala Awards 2016

In a spirit-elevating celebration, the fourth RDA Gala Awards dinner once again recognised the outstanding achievements and dedication of RDA participants, volunteers, supporters and horses.

Host Clare Balding (just back from Rio) was joined by ITV News presenter Alastair Stewart and commentator Jonathan Agnew at Draper’s Hall, London. Also joining them (together with their well-deserved medals) were members of the GB Paraequestrian team: Natasha Baker, Sophie Christiansen and Anne Dunham.

The annual Gala Awards celebrates the efforts of all who help to make the RDA charity so special.

This year’s RDA award winners are:

RDA Group Brilliant Idea (sponsored by Automotive Insulation Ltd): Cobbes Meadow RDA for wheeled steps.

Business Partnership (sponsored by British Equestrian Trade Association): Cowan Architects for ongoing, innovative support for RDA South East

Most Improved Participant (sponsored by Childs Farm): Katherine Swan of Bradbourne RDA

Horse or Pony of the Year (sponsored by SnuggyHoods): Mickey from The Brae RDA

Young Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by The Leadership Whisperers): Matt Dalley of Scropton RDA

Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by Godolphin): Charlotte Court of Kitty Barron RDA.


Sam Smedley is a volunteer with Cobbes Meadow RDA Driving Group. His wife, Ros, has a prosthetic leg and was finding it increasingly difficulty to use the mounting block to get into the carriages. Sam set about inventing a solution – wheeled steps with handrails.

Ros was involved in the design process. The steps fit either side of the front wheel of the carriage, with chocks placed at the back wheel of the carriage on the same side when the steps are in place. The three shallow steps have handrails, and volunteers can stand at either side and behind the driver attempting to mount. The steps are sturdy and durable, and the open design means assistance can be given to move a foot or steady a wobble. There is enough room on the top step for the driver to get their feet into the correct position before they step across into the carriage. The steps are light and can be manoeuvred over grass to sand/rubber fibre mix.

The group’s drivers found them easier to use than the mounting block; the only difference is that drivers dismount the carriage facing forwards, as this can be done safely using the handrails.
The steps have cut the time it takes for each driver to get into the carriage, made it safer for volunteers helping the drivers to mount and dismount, and have improved the drivers’ confidence.

The Group has used the steps for approximately 10 months, and nicknamed them ‘Sam’s Super Steps’.

Cowan Architect’s vision is to improve the quality of life across disabilities, including sponsoring the group’s regional events: Regional Challenge Day, Hickstead Dressage and Indoor Carriage Driving.

David Cowan and his management team attend all the group’s events, award rosettes, and help each individual feel proud of his or her achievement. The company’s staff also provides major assistance to regional volunteers. When the region was in need of a PR Officer, Cowan’s introduced Marketing Manager, Joanna Sale, who now volunteers as Regional Publicity Officer. David Cowan also funded Sophie Christiansen’s expenses in speaking at the RDA’s annual conference

As an expert in accessibility design, David Cowan has made a keynote speech at the RDA Supra Regional Conference, and contributed vital information on improving the accessibility of group centres; and

the company’s Managing Director Phill Mumford joined the group’s fundraising panel at the regional conference

In 2016, Cowan Architects added extended sponsorship to fund training for volunteers; offered safeguarding and fundraising training to volunteers;

provided special training by Guide Dogs for the Blind on working with visually impaired participants; designed and provided framed certificates of participation for all competing groups.


Katherine was studying for her ‘A’ levels in 2012, when she had a car accident just before her 18th birthday. She survived the accident, but with brain damage. While Katherine was in rehab near Bradbourne, her mother called to ask if she could ride, having ridden before the accident.

When Katherine arrived, she was in a wheelchair and rode for no more than ten minutes, with two sidewalkers and a leader. Over following three and half years, Katherine got stronger and improved slowly, always progressing. She began riding for longer, with the sidewalkers walking further away until there was just a leader and a coach nearby.

In 2013, Katherine rode her first dressage test at the Regional competition; she had three helpers with her in the arena.

In 2015, she rode an escorted test, and in 2016, rode her first independent test at a Bradbourne competition.

At the 2016 Southeast Region Dressage competition, Katherine competed as a 1a rider and scored an impressive 64.41%. She rode independently in an arena with spectators, flowers and judges in a box. She performed every movement and saluted the judges at the end, all the time completely unassisted.

Katherine works incredibly hard, going to the gym, learning to walk independently. She progressed from wheelchair to scooter and now walks in on the arm of her mother. She has enrolled in a college course in Art, which is what she was planning after her A-levels. Katherine’s family, and especially her mother, has supported her in every way, encouraging her, pushing her, and watching every lesson.

Katherine’s riding position is beautiful; her disabilities all but disappear despite their restrictions on the ground. The group is unbelievably proud of Katherine, her strength of purpose, her determination and her ambition.

Mickey is a very special horse who loves his job. Mickey provides horse riding, carriage driving and hippotherapy lessons to a wide range of clients, and is also trained in back riding.
In November 2015, Mickey began his training to become The Brae group’s first vaulting horse; he now provides his third block of vaulting lessons – an extraordinary achievement in just eight months.

Without Mickey’s hard work and enthusiasm to learn, it would not have been possible for the vaulters to benefit greatly from their lessons. Vaulting has improved the lives of the clients, making a huge impact on their self-confidence, balance, motor skills, flexibility and co-ordination. The sessions allow the team of vaulters to work in a group and give the vital communication skills to be able to work together, particularly when two vaulters are on Mickey together.

Volunteers also benefit massively from Mickey’s extraordinary achievements, excelling in confidence, self-esteem, patience, determination and communication skills. They also built up trust and now have a very special relationship with Mickey. Volunteers who had never seen or heard of equestrian vaulting before, had the chance to learn and ‘have a go’ while teaching Mickey. Seeing vaulters grinning from ear to ear when they are up on Mickey and seeing what these clients gain from just one session makes it all worthwhile. Mickey also helps teach new volunteers the various skills mandatory for the green card.

The Brae is constantly fundraising to raise much-needed funds to keep the centre running and Mickey is a huge help. From posing for photos, to going for adventures in the horse box (including a visit to a local primary School, along with his tie and school bag), Mickey loves every minute of it.

With his relaxed, kind and caring nature, he is loved by many riders, vaulters, carriage drivers, volunteers, staff, visitors and the other horses, of course. Mickey is truly a horse in a million and deserves to be recognised for all his hard work he does and has done for the past four years at The Brae.


Matt is a rider and volunteer, who helps at his group; for his region and for the national organisation. Inspired initially by the other volunteers at his group, he has always been keen to help out whenever and however he can. As a boy, physical jobs weren’t always easy but as he got older he found his computer skills were an asset to the group. Running their website and social media channels, he works hard to promote the group, its activities and the achievements of its participants.

Matt’s group work got noticed regionally, and his regional work got noticed nationally.  And before long he had a list of volunteer roles to his name:
Group volunteer
Regional Participant Rep
RDA UK participant committee member

Unable to ride at this year’s National Championship, Matt instead volunteered over 4 days, setting up, stewarding, providing invaluable support to the communications team and running the social media for the event.

By his own admission, volunteering has been as life changing for Matt as riding has. He has shared his great story to help promote RDA and volunteering. He has talked about what he does at the RDA UK AGM, at the RDA Supporters Reception and in interview to the print and broadcast media.

He achieves all this with a consistently positive attitude and unwavering enthusiasm.

His achievements are remarkable in themselves, but made even more so when you consider that he was born with a congenital brain condition, leading to muscle weakness and co-ordination problems, he is autistic, has adhd, some learning difficulties and is a profoundly deaf sign language user.

His citation reads:
“He overcomes all these obstacles to become a volunteer with RDA and embodies the slogan ‘It’s what you can do that counts’!”


Charlotte volunteered at the Kitty Barron RDA Group for some years, prior to becoming a Group Coach in early 2012.

The Group started more than 50 years ago, supported and organised by the Barron family throughout. However, following Chris Barron’s death as a result of an accident in early 2015, the Group suspended activities.

In those adverse circumstances, (and notwithstanding having a baby on the morning of Chris’ funeral), Charlotte provided the initiative, drive, enthusiasm and hard work to bring about the Group’s resumption in September 2015.
By that time, Charlotte’s input had enabled the Committee to be reinforced; new helpers recruited; new ponies secured; the indoor school repaired and resurfaced; and the toilet and kitchen facilities refurbished.

In 2016, one of the group’s aims was to get transport to enable participation of riders with the group’s ponies at competitions. The active, lively and happy Group provides an excellent service, and Charlotte had recruited a trainee coach. At the time when the group suspended activities, it was feared that it might close down permanently with the consequent loss of services. It is entirely due to Charlotte that the group has ‘risen from the ashes’ to become a Group that Gloucestershire is, and I am sure Chris and his family would be, proud of.

Page Last Updated: September 30, 2016