People Stories

Sports & Culture

Therapy in the saddle

“Horses have taught me a lot. They are very sensitive to human emotions,” said Andrew Shellum, head coach at the Riding for the Disabled Association of Hong Kong (RDA Hong Kong). “When we are unhappy, they get nervous. But they relax when we are happy. Being around horses helps people better deal with their emotions.” Over the years, Andrew has been helping people with disabilities learn to ride. Most of his students are children with special education needs, such as those with autism and Down syndrome. Adults also come to his classes.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Andrew learned to ride as a child. He later studied equine management in the UK, earning a British Horse Society Stage 4 Senior Coach qualification. He also did a degree in psychology. He wants to harness his experience with coaching riders and working with horses to give back to society. RDA Hong Kong has provided the platform for him to realise his dream.

Founded in 1975, RDA Hong Kong is the only charity that offers free therapeutic riding classes in the city. Since its inception, the association has been supported by The Hong Kong Jockey Club. Based at the Club’s riding school at Beas River in Sheung Shui, it started off working with horses and ponies from the Club.

Today, Andrew works full time at RDA Hong Kong, where he is joined by more than 10 volunteer instructors and many volunteers. In every therapeutic riding lesson, two or three volunteers are assigned to accompany each student to ensure their safety. The association currently has 22 horses, all imported and selected for their character and build.

A large body of research has shown that therapeutic horseback riding brings many benefits to disabled people with different needs. These include improved muscle coordination, stronger balance, better emotional well-being and a greater sense of confidence.

The therapeutic riding programme at RDA Hong Kong is funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. Andrew said many children were a little scared of horses at first, but would soon go closer, touch and talk to them. His most memorable experience was seeing how a seven-year-old girl with autism and who had never spoken much before changed thanks to her riding lessons. After some time, she began to talk unprompted and fell in love with riding horses.

Did you know?

In 2005, the Riding for the Disabled Association of Hong Kong (RDA Hong Kong) developed the sports training program for Para-Equestrian athletes. Since then, it has groomed riders with potential from its therapeutic riding courses at The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s public riding schools, producing athletes such as Natasha Tse Pui-ting and Timothy Tsang Tin Chi who represented Hong Kong at many international competitions and have now joined as members of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Hong Kong Equestrian Performance Plan. Tse, who has cerebral palsy, fell in love with horses after she started taking therapeutic riding classes aged five. Now 25, she has represented Hong Kong at three Paralympic Games.