Published by Cobram Courier in print and online on 4 December, 2013.
A group of local horse enthusiasts has been meeting at Cobram Showgrounds for 25 years.
These riders saddle up and train hard. They have ridden in — and won — state-level competitions.
But this not the average pony club; most of its members have a disability.
The Cobram branch of Riding for the Disabled Association has assisted dozens of people with a disability over its 25-year history.
Trainers at the club are volunteers who donate their time — and horses.
Head coach and secretary Carol Doherty has been there for most of the journey, and said she was constantly amazed at the development of her riding students.
‘‘The horse just brings strange things out in them,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t know what it is. You can’t really put your finger on it.’’
Mrs Doherty has seen it all — from students who had never touched an animal to those who spoke their first sentences in the saddle.
‘‘The ones in the wheelchairs, I think they get the most of of it,’’ she said.
‘‘A horse’s walk is an exaggerated version of our own walk.
‘‘They’ve got all that movement underneath them.
‘‘It actually stimulates all their body and their organs and makes everything pump and work better.’’
Veteran rider Leeanna Corkery, 24, has been riding with the club once a fortnight since she was aged 10.
Ms Corkery has cerebral palsy and is unable to sit up unassisted.
Instead, she lies across the horse on her stomach.
Mrs Doherty sewed a custom saddle cover to support Ms Corkery’s arms and legs while she rides.
Mary Corkery said her daughter had benefited immensely from horse riding.
‘‘I think it’s been really important,’’ Mrs Corkery said.
‘‘It’s a totally different sensation for her altogether — she’s always either sitting or she’s lying, but she doesn’t get to lie on her stomach.
‘‘It’s a whole body sensation, and being handled by different people, adjusting to different voices and sounds.’’
Last Thursday, the group held its annual Christmas celebration, which doubled as its 25-year anniversary party.
Riders played Christmas-themed riding games, including one requiring them to navigate an obstacle course to deliver Christmas tree ornaments into a Santa’s sack.
Even the horses joined in the festive spirit, dressing in red and green for the occasion.