Blenheim woman teaches disabled toddlers how to ride horses

Source: 1News

Tonight's Good Sort is a Blenheim woman whose life changed forever when, alone and depressed, her family suggested she go down to her local riding school for the disabled.

Roslein Wilkes started Early Intervention, a program which teaches toddlers with disabilities how to move and balance through horseback riding, six years ago - the only one in the country.

One of Wilkes' young students is three-year-old Sam, who has Down Syndrome. He's an experienced rider, having been learning for around two years despite his young age.

The horses help the children with "their development, their muscle tone, their core strength, their internal organs" because their movements are similar to humans, she said.

"It walks exactly the same way a human does."

The young students sit on large horses as "the bigger the horse, the smoother their walk, their longer stride," she explained.

Wilkes has been working at Riding for the Disabled for the past 27 years, and is now "on the second generation of these children now".

Wilkes came to the group following the death of her husband Rod from melanoma. 

"My husband died and I was a bit lost," she said.

She found solace in horses.

"I could take one of down to the paddock and have a cry."

So she started volunteering at Riding for the Disabled one day a week, and "within a year, I was sort of running it".

Wilkes says the pay-off is the improvement she sees in the young children.

One of her students is Archie, who was unable to sit, stand or walk before he began attending the program with Wilkes.

He has Pallister-Killian mosaic syndrome, a multi-system disorder that is characterised by extremely weak muscle tone. Only two other children in the country have it.

"If a child is ever going to stand or crawl, it’s often straight after a ride on a horse," his mum Alana explained.

Wilkes says the horse and children saved her life.

"I can’t even imagine what life would be without it now... It’s just the most amazing feeling."