UNSUNG HERO: Saddled up, set for a joyride

IF anyone knows just how lucky we are to have a service such as Riding for the Disabled in the Hunter Region, it’s Michelle Bullen.

The Tanilba Bay resident, 31, volunteers her time to coach riders at the Raymond Terrace facility.

Not all that long ago, she was a rider there herself.

At 14, Mrs Bullen was diagnosed with meningococcal disease.

She survived the infection, which can be fatal, but lost both of her legs below the knee to the disease.

Her high school gave her the opportunity to participate in a program run by Riding for the Disabled.

Her involvement triggered a deep love for riding, and a great respect for the animals.

It is why she still volunteers for the service today.

‘‘I was in a wheelchair for a while before I got my artificial legs,’’ she said.

‘‘It was probably being up tall and not having to worry about anything, knowing I was safe, and also just going with the motion of the horse, that I loved.

‘‘And just being with the horses too, you tend to develop a really special bond with the horses you ride.’’

Mrs Bullen coaches other riders, as well as seeking sponsorship for Riding for the Disabled.

She also organises barbecues at Bunnings in Port Stephens to raise money for the service.

‘‘It costs about $1500 a year to look after one horse,’’ she said.

‘‘We don’t have government funding, so we have to seek out sponsors in order to help us pay for the upkeep of the animals and to make sure their vet bills are all paid.’’

Mrs Bullen, who is a disability support worker for Family and Community Services, said Riding for the Disabled helped people with disabilities experience the enjoyment, challenge and sense of achievement of learning to ride in a safe and supportive environment.

‘‘It gives the children a big boost to their self-esteem,’’ she said.

‘‘It gives them something to do that is a bit different too, it’s a totally different environment for them to experience.

‘‘It gets them out of their wheelchairs and gives them the chance to learn and interact and bond with the horses.

‘‘It also provides an opportunity for them to get involved in a sport and socialise.’’

Winners of Riding for the Disabled’s Mounted Games, held annually at the Raymond Terrace site, went on to compete against riders from other services in events such as barrel and flag races at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

‘‘So they get the excitement of competing, but also just the chance to socialise with people from other Riding For The Disabled services,’’ Mrs Bullen said.

Those interested in supporting or sponsoring the service can contact Riding for the Disabled on 49871402.

COMMITTED: Riding For The Disabled volunteer Michelle Bullen, right, with Jordan Brown, 16, and Wedge.    Picture: Peter Stoop

COMMITTED: Riding For The Disabled volunteer Michelle Bullen, right, with Jordan Brown, 16, and Wedge. Picture: Peter Stoop