Arrow Riding Center in Dartford helps people with disabilities live their best lives

A teenager said she “couldn’t live without horses” because they make her life easier and help reduce the pain caused by her condition.

Ella Bennett, of Rochester, has cerebral palsy and attends the Arrow Riding Center in Dartford, where she works with physiotherapists and horses to improve her mobility and well-being.

Natalie Scott on the therapy horses provide for people with special needs

The 17-year-old started riding in the voluntary charity, which supports young people and adults with disabilities, when she was a baby.

She said: “I started riding because it helped me with my cerebral palsy.

“I exercise every day and have a physiotherapy program, but horses are essential in keeping me in good shape.

“Riding reduces my pain and keeps me looser and more flexible. I couldn’t live without it!”

Ella Bennett during one of her riding lessons

Horseback riding can benefit people with cerebral palsy because a moving horse provides the rider with rhythmic movement similar to the human gait.

In addition to the heat of the animal, this can activate the part of the brain that controls movement, which can help the rider develop better balance and increased strength.

Ella explained that being with the horses is also beneficial to her mentally and thanks to the staff at the riding school she is now being noted for her dressage skills.

She said, “Having goals and targets to hit has improved my mental state, it gives me something to work with.

“The instructors are amazing and even helped me get over an operation I had on my tendons.”

Horses at the Arrow Equestrian Center
Horses at the Arrow Equestrian Center

The center begins horseback riding sessions with children as young as 18 months old, who have no head, neck or spine control.

They start by lying on a sheepskin on the horse’s back, this is called hippotherapy.

Natalie Scott, from Bexleyheath, is head coach and yard manager at the charity, she works with the 11 horses in the stable.

The 34-year-old said: “We are helping our runners to become mobile again, it helps them to walk properly and to live their lives.

“We make it as fun as possible and with the physio side, we play games, do different activities, they love it.”

Kelly Lock, 41, from Dartford, has been attending school since the age of seven.

Kelly Lock, 41 (left) and her mother Jacky
Kelly Lock, 41 (left) and her mother Jacky

Her mother, Jacky, said: “She loves it, it’s her favorite day of the week and it gives her a little confidence in me.

“The staff are awesome, riding builds confidence and the exercise is good.”

Val Blake, group leader at the stables, has been accompanying riders and horses for 34 years.

The 73-year-old rider, from Joydens Wood, said: “Watching the progress of our riders is magical.

“A lot of them have able-bodied parents, they see them having fun and doing activities and they feel left out.

Val Blake leading one of the horses at the Arrow Equestrian Center
Val Blake leading one of the horses at the Arrow Equestrian Center

“But that doesn’t happen with horseback riding, they can get involved, work towards goals and achieve things.”

The oldest runner in the school is 80 years old and the charity can help anyone with a variety of disabilities, from autism to Down syndrome.

If you want to know more about the Arrow Riding Center Click here.

Clyde P. Johnson