Clare Balding, Alastair Stewart and racing driver Damon Hill were among the special guests celebrating RDA’s 50th anniversary in the grand surroundings of Draper’s Hall, London, for this year’s Gala Awards. The evening, hosted by Clare, featured an after-dinner interview with Damon Hill and W-Series driver Alice Powell, and an auction led by Bargain Hunt regular Philip Serrell.
Each year the RDA Gala Awards celebrates the achievements of its riders and carriage drivers, and the outstanding contribution made by its volunteers and horses. In this milestone year for RDA, the 2019 awards was extra special. As RDA celebrates 50 years as a leader in disability sport, Damon Hill and Alice Powell joined Alastair Stewart on stage to talk about the vital role sport can play in shaping lives.
“I’m delighted to be attending the RDA Gala Awards evening,” said 1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill ahead of the event. “It’s a fantastic charity that currently enhances the lives of more than 25,000 disabled adults and children, so I’m really looking forward to finding out more about it and to meeting some of the people with and for whom it does so much excellent work.”
Although the event is an important fundraiser for RDA, the focus of the evening was most definitely the four winners. Guests were treated to a short film about each winner, before meeting them in person as they collected their award and spoke to Clare about their achievements. Sadly, the Horse of the Year couldn’t be there in person!
Let’s meet the winners:
Participant of the Year: Isabella Theophanous
Isabella (Bella)’s recent diagnosis as severely sight-impaired has impacted every aspect of her life, and yet she continues to bring a positive, cheerful attitude to her weekly RDA activities. Her nominator, Jess Dunne of Beechley Stables, wanted to ensure the nominee was a group choice – and the group unanimously chose Bella. As Jess comments: “Once she turned 14, she also started volunteering with us, and now comes every week after school to water and feed the horses, and prepare the yard.”
Jess says the RDA activities Bella was on an RDA holiday in Yorkshire (her first ever) when the winner was announced, and in typical modest fashion was a bit overwhelmed, and wondered: “Why have I won?”
Young Volunteer award: TJay Wilson
TJay had watched from the rider sidelines from the age of 10, desperately wanting to become a volunteer. Finally achieving his goal a few years later, at age 14, he now puts body and soul into volunteering, and will do anything and everything he’s asked to do by the RDA team. As his nominator, Jane Lawrence of Vale Mill Lane Stables, says: “He simply wants to give back all the time.”
On learning of TJ’s Young Volunteer of the Year award, his Nan was beside herself with delight and pride. In his typical laid-back fashion, however, TJ was more muted in his response – although, as he views everything as a competition, his reaction reflects that attitude: ‘What me? I won!”
Volunteer of the Year: Jo Rutherford
Jo is the “unsung hero of the group, and we would struggle to do what we do without her,” says her nominee Kady Chatman of Saxon Group, adding that Jo is involved at every level of the group’s activities, as group coach, group organiser, trustee and fundraiser. Those fundraisers have included a 50-mile challenge, a 3-peaks challenge – and she’s now in training for a 102-mile Cotswold Way ride. Kady adds that Jo always says “Yes” to helping, despite dealing with challenging difficult circumstances.
Jo say it feels “very, very surreal” to have won the award, then adds: “I’m absolutely stunned as I had no idea, and I’m so grateful to Kady for nominating me – I’m hoping it will give us all a boost!”
Horse or Pony of the Year: Cracker
Cracker recently celebrated his 20th year with the Lincolnshire Wolds group, and still manages to “create a little bit of havoc if he’s in the mood” according to his nominee, E. Marshall. As a registered fell pony, Cracker’s full name is Heltondale Bracken V11, and he’s the subject of a book written by his proud owner, whom he also took to church (as a driving pony) for her wedding.
In addition to achieving driving pony status, Cracker has also helped numerous children to ride, and continues to be unfazed by any rider screaming or throwing themselves about.
In lieu of comment from Cracker, his nominee says: “Lincolnshire Wolds would simply not be the same without our Cracker.”