Hundreds of disabled people are to benefit from a £1.7 million indoor riding school.
The development is set to go ahead after Ravelrig Riding for Disabled (Ravelrig RDA) secured planning permission to build the complex.
The school, in Balerno, has a long waiting list which has had to be closed because of the demand for the facilities, while bad weather can see the outdoor arena closed for up to three months each year.
The new arena, which will include 12 stables, an indoor viewing area for family, function rooms and improved parking for visitors, will dramatically improve the experience of the group’s 120 riders, who will also be able to learn vaulting for the first time.
Work is expected to start in 2015, with completion later that year. The work will also benefit existing schools which use the centre, as well as other special schools, children’s hospitals and forces rehabilitation organisations which have expressed interest in using the facilities.
Ravelrig RDA organiser Barbara Johnstone said: “In recent years, very heavy snow stopped lessons for three months, and more recently, rain and strong winds have meant riding sessions being cancelled, leaving riders, families and volunteers all disappointed. Many of the riders have multiple needs, with physical impairments and learning difficulties being particularly common.
“Families are extremely stressed and the disappointment of having a session cancelled can be a breaking point. This means we will be able to extend the huge benefits of riding for the disabled to a far greater number of people, in state-of-the-art facilities.”
The benefits of therapeutic riding have often been hailed as “life changing”. The physical benefits can be felt with every step the horse takes, as these help to flex the rider’s muscles. Riding can also be calming and help with issues such as confidence and self-esteem.
One Ravelrig parent, Caroline Barclay, became involved with the project when her son was ten and said riding has dramatically changed his life.
She explained: “He was asthmatic, had poor muscle tone and wore splints, didn’t speak, found it difficult to concentrate and had terrible tantrums.
“Everything changed when he started to spend time with horses. His asthma improved, he sat up straight, began to manage without splints and found his balance.
“His confidence and speech improved enormously and for the first time in his life, he was able to feel part of a community, part of the world.”
Alys Watson, a retired physiotherapist and former regional physiotherapist for the south of Scotland, said a pony could be used as a “therapeutic tool” for children.
“With children who had no sitting balance you would use the horse and the movement of it to disturb their balance so they can learn to regain it again,” she explained.