THIS year, there has been a distinct lack of good news due to everything that is going on in the world, so it was with great delight that the equestrian community, in particular the members and friends of the Riding for the Disabled Association Northern Ireland (RDANI), learned that Caroline Twemlow (nee Bass) had received an MBE for her services to RDANI in the Queen’s belated birthday honours list.
Caroline is a stalwart of RDA and, during the last lockdown, she co-ordinated regular articles and photos of various RDA Groups and activities throughout Northern Ireland for publication in Horse Week. These were not only intended to provide motivation for current members and volunteers, but hopefully also to enlighten readers about RDA activities and to encourage more people to get involved, as soon as everything is up and running fully once more!
Horse Week’s Bree Rutledge was intrigued to find out more about Caroline’s background and how she came to be involved in RDANI herself…
Caroline’s parents were born in Ireland and lived in Belfast, before moving to near London, where Caroline was born. The family moved back to Northern Ireland when Caroline was seven years old and lived in Holywood and then Clandeboye.
Caroline’s parents were not ‘horsey’, but after years of persuasion, she was treated to her first pony, a 12.2hh called ‘Gypsy’, who taught her ‘stickability’! Over the following years, Caroline progressed through the pony ranks and then into horses. She was a member of the North Down Pony Club, competed in Show Jumping and Eventing and also hunted with the North Down Harriers.
While Caroline was still at school, she recalls her first encounter with RDA on visiting Cavallo, where Lady Perdita Blackwood ran an RDA Group. Caroline’s mother was a volunteer and, at that time, Caroline assumed the only riders at RDA were children with physical disabilities.
After Caroline got married to husband Paul, they lived at Six Road Ends, Bangor then moved back to Holywood in 1984, where they still live. Caroline worked as a radiographer until 1982.
Caroline hasn’t owned a horse since having her two children, Clare and Mark, however, she was lucky to be able to keep riding and helping friends with their horses until about 10 years ago. Clare has featured in the pages of Horse Week a number of times for her equestrian pursuits, which have included amazing feats such as the Mongol Derby and the Gaucho Derby. Mark didn’t ride, but was a great ‘groom’ at events and, along with Caroline’s husband, Paul, put up with her disappearing on RDA trips!
Caroline has been involved with RDA for over 30 years. In 1988, she was approached and asked if she would be willing to instruct an RDA Group and was surprised when she was told the riders were young adults with learning difficulties, who attended the Newtownards Adult Training and Resource Centre.
Caroline was given a brief introduction to RDA by the retiring instructor, Maureen Blackmore. Then it was over to her – she asked friends and put an appeal on Downtown Radio and soon they had a band of volunteers and re-formed the Newtownards RDA Group. This was long before the arrival of paperwork and essential training that is in place now!
Birr House Riding Centre has been part of the story since the start and still provides four local RDA Groups with a choice of ideal horses, so RDA can provide the unique benefits that riding can offer. Huge gratitude is due to the owner, Caroline McVeigh, for her generosity over the years.
RDANI Regional Chairman, Julie Frazer commented: “Caroline Twemlow has been a great asset to RDANI, her skills and enthusiasm for coaching have led to many successes for the Newtownards Group riders, both at Regional and National Level, helping them to achieve their full potential and more.
“Her contribution to the Northern Ireland Region began with her appointment as a County Coach in 1997, a role which meant she was responsible for the training of all the Coaches in her area, as well as conducting regular peer reviews and assessments for new coaches as RDA regulations require. Caroline’s thoroughness and dedication, combined with deep knowledge of all RDA matters meant that she was an obvious choice for the post of Regional Coach when this became vacant in 2010,” Julie continued.
Regional Coaches are responsible for ensuring that all 30 groups in Northern Ireland are delivering sessions to the same high standard and overseeing the training of County Coaches. They have close links with the Coaching Committee at RDA UK and are responsible for ensuring that new developments and research are disseminated throughout the Region.
“Caroline’s dedication and enthusiasm for the role has meant that her own professional development has been continuous due to her willingness to attend training and conferences when appropriate and that no group was too far away to visit for training purposes and support when required. In Northern Ireland, we have groups all over the province, including Coleraine, Strabane, Enniskillen, Newtownhamilton and Downpatrick – so this is not a light undertaking for a volunteer!
“There are many unsung heroes amongst our 700+ Volunteers in Northern Ireland, however Caroline’s tireless efforts to raise standards and encourage others to do the same means that her contribution has been exceptional. I hope the Northern Ireland Region will continue to benefit from her expertise for many years to come,” Julie concluded.
Caroline’s dedication and professionalism have been acknowledged by RDA UK and she received her President’s Award from the Princess Royal last year. She continues to be a Group Coach for the Newtownards Group and also a Coach Developer for coaches throughout Northern Ireland.
“Looking back to 1988, I am so pleased I said ‘yes’, as joining the RDA family has allowed me to meet so many amazing people and has given me a huge amount of pleasure,” says Caroline.
Regarding her recent honour, she continued: “Naturally I’m delighted, but I know it’s really recognition for the whole RDA family. It takes a big team to keep RDA running smoothly to enable so many participants to benefit.
“It has been, and still is, a privilege to have given many adults and children the opportunity to experience the joy of being involved with horses,” she concluded.