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New Zealand Riding for the Disabled Association (NZRDA) is an association of Member Groups. It is a, not-for-profit organisation which provides opportunities for anyone with a disability to enjoy safe, healthy, stimulating, therapeutic horse riding and horse-related activities in New Zealand.

There are currently 55 RDA Groups operating across New Zealand.  These Groups combined provide a valuable service to over 3,000 Riders each year, including Recreational Riding, Therapeutic Riding, 'Equine-assisted' or 'Equine-facilitated' Psychotherapy and Hippotherapy (which literally means treatment with the horse.  Over 80,000 rides are undertaken each year across the country.

As NZRDA is not Government funded, we rely heavily on the support of the community – both for Volunteers and donations towards the running of the organisation.

Core Purpose / Vision / Values

Our core purpose is to provide interaction with horses to develop increased ability, independence and self-worth for children and adults with physical, intellectual, emotional and social challenges.

Our vision is to deliver safe and effective programmes in local communities to benefit more Riders. 

As an organisation we value Safety, Teamwork, Respect, Quality and Enjoyment.

The Role of NZRDA

New Zealand Riding for the Disabled (NZRDA) is an Incorporated Society and registered as a charity. It is governed by a Board of Directors, made up of an RDA Member from each of the three areas and up to four Co-opted Members. A CEO manages day to day running of NZRDA.

NZRDA provides:

  • Standards, Training, Certification and Support, to ensure consistent minimum Health & Safety and Rider programme requirements across all Groups.

  • Provision of New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) moderation of all RDA Unit Standards to ensure consistency across New Zealand, and online registration for all NZQA Unit Standards working in partnership with the Agricultural Industry Training Organisation (AgITO).

  • A single coordination point for all RDA Training.

  • Subsidised professional development and training for all Therapists, Coaches, Volunteers and Committees, including anannual National Training Seminar.

  • The provision of marketing, branding and fundraising expertise to RDA Groups, to assist them with the growing of their local profile and to ensure they maintain a consistent funding stream.

  • Online and printed resources for all Groups including policies, procedures, standards and guidance training manuals, reference materials and brochures.

The History of RDA


Throughout history, horses have played a significant role in the shaping of peoples existence. The concept of using horses for therapy began more than 2000 years ago, when the ancient Greeks and Romans recognised that riding horses was valuable in maintaining and improving health and well being.

From the early 1900's through to World War 1, a strong British movement began when horses were used in orthopaedic hospital programmes for the rehabilitation of convalescing soldiers, especially amputees.

In the 1950's and 60's a handful of pioneers explored the use of horse riding to assist people with all types of disabilities, in particular those affected by the polio epidemics of that time. Their cause was greatly assisted when Ms Liz Hartel, who used a wheelchair, rode her horse to a silver medal in dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. These events laid the foundation of the RDA movement that is now recognised worldwide, and to date over 45 countries are members of "The Federation of Riding for the Disabled International" (FRDI).

New Zealand

RDA was formally introduced to New Zealand in 1962. Mr Tom Atchison (1909-1999), who was then president of the New Zealand Pony Club Association, brought information back from United Kingdom which formed the basis for the development of NZRDA.

Riding began as a sub group at the Pony Club in Waipukurau, Hawke's Bay, and various individuals or groups were also providing opportunities for people with disabilities. It was this interest that prompted the formation of the NZRDA in 1972. Retiring Pony Club President Mr Atchison was invited to head the new organisation. Travelling around the country targeting particular people involved in the equestrian world. he encouraged and enabled the formation of many Groups throughout New Zealand over the next eight years.

RDA International - FRDI

FRDI was founded in 1980. It forms worldwide links between countries and centres, offering equine activities and assists in the development of new programmes worldwide. They have members form over 45 different countries around the world.

The FRDI is actively involved in establishing international standards of safety and competency in instruction and in encouraging high standards of protection and training of horses for therapeutic purposes. The organisation liaises with the relevant bodies for the promotion of equestrian sport for riders with disabilities. NZRDA is a full member of the FRDI.

Every three years FRDI sponsors an International Congress for Therapeutic Riding, which features the latest research and development results. The congress is a unique opportunity that brings the world together to spearhead the promotion of equine assisted activities.



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