This NT charity is making its mark in Australia’s wild frontier

Seeing ‘little miracles every day is all in a day’s work for Lesley Monro, manager of Riding for the Disabled Australia (RDA) located in the Northern Territory’s Top End.

RDA is a community run not-for-profit organisation that provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to thrive. The group anyone with a disability to enjoy safe, healthy stimulating, therapeutic, horse-related activities in Australia and has been operating successfully for over 40 years, with the first RDA centre opening in Brisbane in 1964.

Monro tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) working with clients with disabilities can be challenging but it’s always rewarding. The organisation doesn’t restrict its work to that of people with disabilities, also providing opportunities for youth at risk, community groups and volunteers in the greater Darwin area. RDA Top End assists them to participate in equestrian and related activities in a safe and supportive environment. Monro says the result for participants is an improved quality of life.

“Some of our clients are very apprehensive about horses and riding so it takes an infinite amount of patience to encourage our riders to even wear a riding helmet, let alone try to get on a horse,” Monro explains.

Bullet is one of the RDA Tope End’s favourite horses.

“We work with so many and varied disabilities you need to have a strength of character and dedication as some of our clients are quite challenging but the smiles and laughter make each day special,” she adds.

Situated on 40 acres in Marlow Lagoon, 25 minutes from Darwin, RDA Top End offers a full size, sand-based indoor riding arena to conduct classes throughout the monsoon seasons in the Top End.

“We also have an outdoor riding arena for dry season horse-related activities. We have 120 participating members on a regular basis and 20 horses individually trained by our RDAA and Australian Sports Commission accredited coaches.”

Monro says finding the money to keep the organisation afloat is always a challenge but they are fortunate to have some assistance via government funding and volunteer staff and community support help make ends meet.

“The other challenging aspects are extreme weather conditions, the heat, cyclones, monsoons and keeping volunteers. Being a not for profit volunteer community organisation is a challenge in itself as we rely on the generosity of local businesses and the general public. It is a very costly exercise maintaining the health of the horse to provide this wonderful service to so many in the Greater Darwin Community.” Monro says.

Monro, who grew up in Victoria has always had an interest in social justice.

“I came from a family who believed that social justice was extremely important and that everyone was treated in a fair and just way between individuals and society.

“My parents were extremely generous to all that crossed our paths and during my childhood and teenage years I was surrounded by people from all walks of life, European, Asian, rich or poor, and the disabled.

In fact, Monro suggests her childhood was somewhat idyllic.

“I also spent many happy years in Warragul (country Victoria) with my aunts, Grandmothers and Great Grandmother who were also savvy business women. My Great Grand Mother ran a furniture shop my Grandmother and her sister had a dairy farm in Lillico. My best friend over many years was a neighbour’s child with Down Syndrome, I was taught from a very young age only to see the ability,” she says.

This passion to promote equality and diversity has seen Monro extend the services of RDA to incorporate working with at-risk kids and local members of the Indigenous community.

“Indigenous youth is a real passion of mine and over the past nine years we have run programs for indigenous youth in crisis,” Monro says. “Working with the NT Police and the Youth Diversion Program we run work ready programs for kids in crisis. They are referred to us either by the NT Police or the courts for community service work.

Monro enjoys working with members of the community 

We also work with refugees who are referred to us by the education department. These refugees are young teenagers from war-torn countries who have fled to Australia with their parents and siblings for a better life. These kids suffer from trauma, and anxiety, working with horse seems to change their thought patterns and life become a little more bearable for them.”

Monro has also used the riding school as a base for a school of a different variety…

“In 2009, we ran Katherine School of the Air from the Centre here in Marlow Lagoon. The students had a tutor and spoke with their teachers via computer every day. It was an extremely successful program. Sadly. due to funding cuts, the program ceased operation in 2010 but Monro continues to magnify the scope of the work done at the centre.

“We also worked with Dondale Youth Detention Centre where we ran work ready programs for youth that were ready for parole. This also proved to be extremely successful, but a change in management and Government has seen this program to become null and void.
The group also work with Northern Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAJA) to provide Equine Therapy for young indigenous offenders.

Monro credits her tireless volunteers for RDA’s success, with the organisation recently picking up the Telstra Business Award for NT Charity of the Year.

“It was such an honour for RDA in the Top End to be chosen for this award,” Monro says.

“It has given me a chance to showcase the wonderful work this organisation does within the greater Darwin community, to show how dedicated my small pool of volunteers are, my coaches, my wonderful riders and or course our hardworking team of horses. I have also met some very talented, dedicated and hardworking other business within the Territory that makes the Territory what is today.”

Find out more about RDA’s work here

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