Funding crisis for riding programme

Vicki Bonham-Hoskin, with daughter Rebekah (7), has her hands full keeping the Spirit of Equus Riding for the Disabled programme going. Photo by Henrietta Kjaer.
Vicki Bonham-Hoskin, with daughter Rebekah (7), has her hands full keeping the Spirit of Equus Riding for the Disabled programme going. Photo by Henrietta Kjaer.
Despite a waiting list, a Riding for the Disabled programme might be closed in the Wakatipu area, as funding is running out.

The Spirit of Equus organisation, which is providing riding for the disabled as a method of rehabilitation, has been applying to charitable trusts and organisations for funding, with little recent success.

"Only two children are currently riding on a weekly basis. I have a dozen children and adults on the waiting list to join the programme, but without financial support they are unable to attend," Spirit of Equus founder Vicki Bonham-Hoskin said.

She said the cost for the programme was $50 per half-hour, and most people would ride at least once a week. The price covered the instruction and a helper for each horse and rider along with the upkeep of the horse.

"People with special needs, or with children with special needs, are usually already hard hit financially, and find it difficult to pay for this therapy. That is why I have been applying for funds to cover their costs."

Mrs Bonham-Hoskin said Riding for Disabled was suitable as rehabilitation for both physical disabilities and for intellectual, emotional or multiple disabilities.

"It is a great physical training, but it is also very beneficial for creating confidence and self-esteem. It trains communication skills and gives a sense of independence and accomplishment through interaction with the horses," she said.

The Lake Hayes-based facility used to offer the Riding for the Disabled programme through the national organisation New Zealand Riding for the Disabled Association, but this organisation dropped the Wakatipu programme about four years ago.

Today, the nearest NZRDA option is in Alexandra, which a lot of the people on the waiting list are unable to attend.

When the official programme was cancelled, Spirit of Equus continued to offer the service on a private basis. Yet, the organisation is already struggling to finance its regular operation to rehabilitate horses, which have suffered neglect or abuse, or need to be re-trained for other purposes after a career in racing or eventing.

Some of the horses and ponies are only at the Spirit of Equus for a short period while being nursed back to health or re-trained, while others stay and are used for pony rides, riding classes or riding for the disabled.

With room for a maximum of 20 horses, Mrs Bonham-Hoskin has 15 horses in her care, with six of them ready for a new home.

The cost of keeping the horses is substantial for the organisation, which does not get subsidies, but relies on income from services such as horse-riding lessons, pony rides for birthday parties, horse training, educational talks and fundraising.

Hay alone will cost about $8000 for the winter season, and the total cost of keeping the horses during winter, including all food and vet bills, sits around $20,000-$25,000.

"I understand that during tight economic times, all funding has to be prioritised. Unfortunately, animal welfare is often low on the pecking order," she said.