Mackerel
F38C3539_B&W.jpg

My Life After Polo

My life after polo
Helping the disabled at RDA Singapore

10 September 2015


“I enjoy my work. It’s a little less stressful than polo, and it is safer. More important, I’m helping someone to feel better and to grow stronger, even to walk again; it’s very satisfying.” - Tobiana, therapy horse.

I love the mornings. Just past 6.30am, the birds are slowly stretching their wings and, as they call out to one another, they sing us awake. Theirs is a song of promise – the promise of another opportunity for me to roll in the sand again; the promise of another day of honest work, and the promise of doing a good thing. 

Lukas next to me usually wakes before I do. Or at least, he stirs before I do. His morning yawn as he shakes sleep from his mane is loud enough to wake the dead. And, as most boys would, he often greets the dawn with a rapturous and self-important fart. 

My name is Tobiana and I’m a therapy horse at RDA Singapore.

C and me getting ready to exercise.

RIDING FOR THE DISABLED ASSOCIATION SINGAPORE

RDA Singapore was established in 1982 with just five riders and space borrowed from the Singapore Polo Club. To date, the registered charity has provided therapy to about 6,000 beneficiaries. The therapy offered at RDA Singapore is generically termed “horseriding therapy”, which is also known as equine-assisted therapy or hippotherapy. The therapy is provided free of charge to adults and children with physical and/or mental disabilities. 

RDA Singapore is the only provider of such services in the city. So, I’m rather miffed that its existence isn’t more commonly known, although I suspect that it’s because anything to do with horses is seen as a rich man’s privilege. Humans are illogical that way; so blinkered in their views sometimes that they can’t see beyond their biases. 

The centre gets some financial support from the government and is, therefore, almost wholly reliant on the generosity of donors and sponsors to keep it running - to keep us fed, cleaned and healthy so that we can continue to provide the therapy. 

Money aside, the centre’s dedicated army of volunteers is invaluable to the enduring validity of our therapy programmes.

Aren't I pretty?

LIFE AFTER POLO

It was in 2012 that I joined RDA Singapore. I was, up until then, playing polo at the Singapore Polo Club just next door. If I don’t say so myself, I was an elegant polo pony. So elegant, in fact, that I was named Pony of the Match in the Audemars Piguet International Polo 2009 tournament. So, I was quite taken aback when I found out that I wouldn’t be playing any more polo. 

I was 15 when my then-owners donated me to the RDA. Miraculously, I hadn’t sustained any serious injuries from polo, but they felt that I was no longer young or fast enough to play winning chukkas for them. I didn’t know what to expect of my new life; I’d only ever known the push and pain of polo. But, I’d had heard murmurings in the stables about the disabled kids who scream and pull at horses’ manes wildly - all true yet not quite. 

What the other horses at the polo club didn’t know – and couldn’t know - was that not all the riders scream and pull at horses’ manes. Those who do, have neurological and/or psychological impulses that they can’t quite control, which is why they come to the RDA. Many of the riders I support are loving and have to be told to stop petting me, especially during a session. Apparently, it was my “sweet” nature that had me started with sessions so soon after I arrived at the RDA. 

One of the volunteers who often works with me is C. I’m quite fond of her and I reckon she likes me, too. She speaks to me gently, bathes me, brushes my hair, takes me out on walks to graze and always (ALWAYS) has carrots for me.

C really does give me a good scrub. 

RETIREMENT AND BEYOND

I’m settled now in my semi-retirement routine at the RDA. Technically, I still work, but it’s work that I enjoy. Just as the birds sing Mother Nature’s promise to us that dawn will break the darkness and loneliness of night, I’ve found myself making a promise to the beneficiaries who depend on me for comfort from the pain in their hips, or to build on their self-confidence or to help them with exercises that strengthen their core muscles. 

I’ve stood with children with cerebral palsy; who arrive at the RDA all crumpled up in their wheelchairs, only to be walking independently months later in crutches. 

I’ve had to zone out as others screamed and kicked because sitting on a horse for the first time frightened them senseless; and then zoned back in again a week later as they happily jumped on and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. 

The adult beneficiaries who can’t speak – they, too, laugh and gesture their joy at sitting tall on a horse for once in their lives. 

My name is Tobiana and I’m a therapy horse at RDA Singapore.

For more on RDA Singapore: 

Website
http://rdasingapore.org/ 

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/rdasgp

Instagram
@rdasingapore

Text: Carol | Photos: Vernon Leow (http://www.vitalimages.com.sg/)