BEST FRIENDS: Jess Mitchell with her best friend Smurf.
BEST FRIENDS: Jess Mitchell with her best friend Smurf. Meghan Kidd

Jess is a smiling success

YOU could not wipe the smile off Jess Mitchell's face when she was trotting around the arena, talking to her special friend Smurf.

The nine-year-old has forged a bond with the horse, after she started taking one-on-one riding lessons, and has come ahead in leaps and bounds.

Jess's mum, Kristy, said her daughter who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, has flourished since getting on the saddle.

"She started lessons in March and now rides by herself," Kristy said.

"Now she says, 'I'll trot now,'."

"She and Smurf are ridiculous together, she talks to him and says he talks back with his ears, and he looks after her - I really trust him with her."

Kristy said what the RDA club was offering was fantastic - an opportunity for children to turn up, without any equipment, or even a horse of their own, and take part in lessons.

"Where else do you get a chance to do this," she said.

"It's a connection, and this is coming from a parent that has a child with special needs, what we do here is therapeutic riding - it's the feel, the smell the motion of the horses and its paces - it's not the interaction with the people, but the horses."

Jess's success was the inspiration behind an eight-week program, which accredited coach Deb Bamblett has worked tirelessly to develop.

"She's been with our longstanding horse, Smurf, and I want to see her integrated into the Pony Club," Deb said.

"Smurf is 27 years old, and he has a new lease on life since he met Jess.

Deb said an eight-week program is better because kids are not getting nervous when they get back in the saddle once a month.

The lessons will be 45 minutes, and will be structured with balance exercises and fun activities.

"They'll learn how to mount them, how to hold the reins correctly, then starting, stopping and turning," Deb said.

"Then they will learn parts of the course, the saddle and the bridle, how to trot, how to do a game - a flag race and a barrel race.

"At the end of the eight weeks I'm hoping that the majority of the riders will be independent."

The course begins on Saturday at the pony club grounds. For more information, contact the RDA club in Blackwater.

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