FOUR riders representing an equestrian program in Mandalong have had a very successful weekend competing at the Riding for the Disabled Association of NSW's State Gymkhana and Dressage Championships, at Sydney International Equestrian Centre.
Kyle Chapman, 24, Sui Watts, 26, Jodin Bell, 13, and Saree Masterton, 18, are participants in the Star Club Equestrian Program for people with an intellectual disability.
The Star Clubbers, as they are known, ride at the Emerald Park Equine Centre, in Mandalong.
The centre is owned by Jade Baglee who is also the Star Club coach.
Program co-founder Sharon Bassett said the quartet had "a fantastic" weekend, topped off by some impressive results including first and second placings in several dressage and showjumping events.
"We are the only equestrian association in NSW that is specifically designed for riders with an intellectual disability," Ms Bassett said.
There are 65 people on the Star Club mailing list, and about 30 regularly attend the monthly riding sessions at Mandalong.
Star Clubbers range in age from 6 to 50.
They travel from near and far to take part - from Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast to the Hunter Valley, Sydney and even Taree.
They live with conditions such as autism, Down's syndrome, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and global developmental delay.
For Jodin Bell, 13, of Belmont, victory in his Le Trec and para equestrian dressage events was an emotional moment.
"When Jodin had finished his test he just burst into tears, he was so happy," Ms Bassett said.
When asked if he ever thought he could one day win events at the state championships, Jodin's response was swift.
"He said 'I didn't think I could ever learn to ride'," Ms Bassett said.
Taking part in the Star Club Equestrian Program and working with horses provides participants with a range of benefits.
"Firstly, they get to focus on an activity. A lot of our riders have autism or ADHD so this helps them to focus, and develop their listening skills."
There is an important sensory element involved, too.
"They learn to touch a horse. Sometimes there can be slobber involved when you touch a horse, and some of our riders freak out when that first happens," she said.
Over time, the riders learn to deal with it.
"Physically, the riders develop strength - especially in their core muscles - and balance. And they work on their fine motor skills when they're involved in things like doing up the bridle."
Participants also develop their communication skills.
"Overall, it just gives their confidence a tremendous boost," Ms Bassett said.
The Star Club Equestrian Program is a not-for-profit association which is affiliated with Equestrian Australia.
"We are an Active Kids Voucher provider, and Star Clubbers can claim through NDIS plans. We are also pledged to stop bullying in equestrian sports," Ms Bassett said.
For more information about the Star Club Equestrian Program phone Ms Bassett on 0414 527 020 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org