LOCAL members of Riding for the Disabled enjoyed a golden gallop on Thursday to celebrate the organisation's 50th birthday.

Dozens of disabled riders of all ages and abilities saddle up every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon at Greenhill, near Selkirk.

But this week's sessions had the added enjoyment of a few party games, some fancy dress and a cake.

Although the national Riding for the Disabled organisations is blowing out 50 candles this year, the foundations of the Ettrickbridge and Dryden group stretches back even further.

It was in 1964 that the late Miss McGowan recognised the benefits that could be gained for local children with various disabilities from riding.

Using her own ponies, as well as a few borrowed from friends, and enlisting a group of volunteers the group met regularly in Ettrickbridge.

It was only after Miss McGowan's death that the region's first riding for the disabled school moved from the village down to Bowhill.

After a short period on the estate, it was decided to merge the Ettrickbridge group with a similar organisation at Dryden, near Ashkirk, which had been started by Jean McAulay - mother of the current host, Jenny Stark.

Glynis Sawyers, from Ettrickbridge and Dryden Riding for the Disabled, told us: "Jean McAulay took the group from strength to strength and was the major driving force behind it for many years.

"The group had a short spell of uncertainty following Jean’s untimely death but, under the good guidance of regional and county personnel, gathered itself together and built itself up again."

The local group continued to meet each week at Dryden until 2013 when Jenny and her husband, Ian Stark, moved their riding school business a few miles along the A7 to Greenhill.

Glynis continued: "We were able to move into the new centre in October of 2013 and since then we have adapted well to our new base, recently installing a new mounting block.

"We now provide riding on a Wednesday afternoon for primary children on a weekly basis from approximately Easter until the October half term.

"There are also weekly sessions on Thursday afternoons for two further groups of riders, one for senior school children and one for adults."

Ettrickbridge and Dryden Riding for the Disabled currently has four coaches and two trainee coaches.

It also has a core base of volunteers as well as students from Borders College, who are working on a Horse Care course under the guidance of tutor Alison Robertson.

Glynis added: "The students are a valuable part of our team and the benefits work both ways.

"The students benefit from the experience of volunteering with us, they help get the ponies ready for the sessions and also assist in the riding sessions.

"The group benefits from having young, fit helpers and they fill the gaps when we are short of regular volunteers."

Although Ettrickbridge and Dryden Riding for the Disabled is self-funding, the group holds several fund-raising events each year to meet running costs.

Anyone who would like to volunteer at the weekly sessions they can contact Kathie Marshall on 07896 089133 or pop into the Greenhill centre any Wednesday or Thursday afternoon between 1.15pm and 3.30pm.

The group is particularly short of volunteers on Thursdays.