Making it work

RDA is great at harnessing its volunteers’ love for horses as a hobby, but what about as a job? We visited a centre in Surrey that believes there should be a place for RDA as a career for those that want it.

The Diamond Centre in Carshalton, Surrey, is a purpose built RDA centre that is open five days a week for the delivery of riding, carriage driving, hippotherapy and vaulting. The centre welcomes 367 participants every week who come from nearby schools and the local area, with a current age range of 4 to 65.

Just a year away from its 40th anniversary, Diamond operates on an impressive scale, and today has a staggering 400 volunteers on its books. In addition, there are 15 members of staff, including a Yard Manager, 3 full time and 2 part time grooms and office staff. Among the staff and volunteers there are over 20 RDA Coaches.

International reputation

Diamond is rightly proud of the diversity among its participants and the breadth of experience and expertise of its staff and volunteers, and the centre is a popular destination for overseas students who want to learn more about equine therapy of all kinds.

“Students come here for a period of a couple of weeks to up to a year for the experience and to enhance their learning,” explains Centre Administrator, Angela Goldie. “They come to learn; to gather evidence and observations for research, to deepen their understanding of specific disabilities and broaden their knowledge and experience of equine therapy of all kinds.”

Students also benefit from working alongside specialists such as Physiotherapist, Anthea Pell, who alongside two other retired Physios, delivers hippotherapy and physiotherapy to riders.

Home-grown talent

While the overseas student programme is a boost to the Centre’s reputation, Angela and her team are keen to extend RDA knowledge overseas by training students to a high standard.

Despite offering training towards BHS Stage qualifications, RDA Coaching exams and UKCC, the Centre is still mindful of the dearth of good coaches coming up through the volunteering pathway. “We really need more home-grown talent to support the work of RDA in the future,” she says. “And it really makes sense if we can inspire young people in this country to make a career out of equine assisted therapy in some way.”

Learning on the job

With this in mind, the Centre has recently partnered with Merrist Wood, part of Guildford College, to deliver a National Proficiency Tests Council Level 2 Diploma in work based horse care. The work-based aspect of the Diploma makes it ideal for over 16s who want to study horse care in a more practical environment than the classroom.

The course – which is assessed through coursework and practical application –consists of seven mandatory units and up to ten additional options that can include riding and assisting riders with special needs and requirements. Students who successfully achieve the Level 2 Diploma can enter the BHS exams at Stage 2 and can progress to the Level 3 Diploma.

With some accommodation on site, Diamond can even offer residential placements for over 18s, who can stay rent-free during term time. “Now young people are expected to be in education until 18, but classroom based learning and exams just don’t suit everyone,” says Angela. “Through the Diploma, students can become qualified while they work – doing something they love and, hopefully, strengthening RDA for the future.”

Volunteer pathway

The new Diploma is the latest example of Diamond’s commitment in building a strong support network for RDA in the future. “It’s not just a case of inspiring volunteers to stay with RDA,” explains Angela. “It’s about opening their eyes to the career opportunities that complement our work, such as Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy and teaching, as well more traditional equestrian jobs such as yard management, coaching and grooming.”

Diamond promotes a structured approach to volunteer training and development, with a focus on education and building skills for life. There is a Junior Volunteer scheme that starts from age 13 and includes training sessions one evening a week until they are ready to progress to Saturdays. The Centre tries to provide a ride for its junior volunteers each week, as well as stable management lectures and training days.

“We try to build a pathway for our volunteers, helping them to progress towards becoming instructors and yard managers. There aren’t many yards offering the kinds of opportunities we can here, and because it’s RDA it really opens their minds to the potential of equine assisted therapy as a career.

“Good Juniors can be trained to be RDA Group Instructors before they are 18. It gives them a skill for life and even if they end up living elsewhere they will always have that RDA training behind them.”

RDA as a career

The first few students are already enrolled on the new Diploma at Diamond, taking an important towards what they expect to be a fulfilling and challenging career in equestrianism.

Angela and her team are realistic about the opportunities that exist for paid employment in the industry, particularly for therapeutic riding as a specialism, but this seems to make them only more driven to give their own volunteers and students the best possible start. “It is hard to find paid employment in RDA, and it is equally hard to find the right people – but I think that’s changing,” she concludes. “if we were recruiting – and someone had this qualification under their belt – it would certainly give them an advantage.’

For more information about The Diamond Centre at the Diploma in work-based horse care, visit or the Merrist Wood website



Page Last Updated: May 20, 2013