Isle of Mull Riding for the Disabled (RDA) currently makes use of a field by the beach at Killiechronan but often has to cancel the much-loved sessions when rain makes the ground too slippery.
Now, a fund-raising effort, which has attracted support from salmon farmer Scottish Sea Farms and the Mull and Iona Community Trust Waterfall Fund, will transform the centre into a safer environment for riders of all ages.
Susan Penny, chair of the Mull RDA, said the funding – totalling £10,000 so far – was ‘fantastic’ and would mean even better access for local groups.
‘People here will happily turn out in the worst weather, but because the riders have to be led, we cannot ride safely if the ground is slippery, as it often is at our venue when we have had heavy or prolonged rain.
‘A sand arena will allow us to extend provision to support groups such as Mull Safe and Sound (a local mental health charity), carers groups, the elderly and those with dementia.
‘We will be able to offer ‘tea with a pony’, an initiative that enables people to simply spend time with a pony, improving mood, reducing stress, and getting outdoors in a friendly and sociable atmosphere.
‘Last week we had a visit from one woman who hadn’t ridden for 60 years. She was nervous to start with, but it was lovely to watch her confidence grow.’
The sand arena will also be used by the Killiechronan Kids Club, which ensures that cost is not a barrier to participation, giving all young people access to riding.
As well as Mull residents, the RDA caters for people on the mainland and on Iona, which involves a 100-mile trip.
‘Mull and Iona are very small communities and are just not big enough to have facilities for people with disabilities,’ said Susan. ‘For some of our participants, the weekly RDA session is their one opportunity in the week to get out and meet other people.
‘We take whoever we can accommodate but with the new arena we will be able to extend the service to more people on a regular basis.’
One parent described the RDA trip as the highlight of her daughter’s week: ‘Mull RDA is a lifeline to families like us, living on an island with little or no resources for people with disabilities. The staff and volunteers are brilliant, and we can relax knowing our daughter is in good hands.’
On top of the support from local businesses and community funds, Susan said children at Tobermory High School were also giving up their spare time to raise funds for the RDA. And Mull Pony Trekking supplies the ponies – and coach Liz Henderson – for the charity, which was established in 2015 and is run by volunteers.
Once all the funding is in place, the work on the new sand surface is expected to get underway in the winter, ready for a planned opening in spring 2023.