ON THE outskirts of Stranraer is a club that helps to change lives. You perhaps wouldn’t know it at first glance but Happy Hooves is called that for a very good reason.

The local disabled riding group provides disadvantaged people with opportunities they would otherwise never have.

From a stable situated just outside the town at Planting End Farm in Dunragit, volunteers help make a difference on a weekly basis – with a little help from their four-legged friends.

The positives for riders are endless, ranging from physical benefits such as building muscle tone to improving social skills by raising self-confidence.

“The simple pleasure of working with horses is the cornerstone of all our activities,” said Debs Millington, a fully qualified riding instructor involved with the group.

“From that starting point everything else flows, be that freedom of movement, gaining confidence, building relationships, receiving life-enhancing physiotherapy or achieving individual goals.”

Riders take part in weekly sessions, going on ride-outs and learning the tricks of the trade.

Debs added: “Medical professionals recognise that there are significant therapeutic benefits for the rider.

“The warmth and three dimensional movement of the horse is transmitted through the rider’s body, gradually making it more relaxed and supple, strengthening core stability, reducing spasms and improving balance, posture and co-ordination.

“Riding offers an element of risk, often denied to many people, especially those who have been affected by an accident or serious illness, and offers them the chance to regain mobility and a sense of achievement.”

The group has been on the go since 2008 and has just had news of a grant to help them in their plans to move to a new improved site.

Nearly 30 local people benefit from the club’s activities, with ten selfless volunteers making it all possible.

Along with a number of others, Debs is responsible for the success of the group.

“Knowing that our region did not have any RDA (Riding for the Disabled) group I felt that the area would benefit from it greatly,” Debs said, explaining where the club originated from.

“The group is a great team of dedicated people.

“To explain what I get out of it is difficult, the best way that anyone could understand that would be to visit the group in action, to see for themselves.”

The Stranraer Happy Hooves host events throughout the summer months and have been well supported by the local community for a number of years.

They also work with other agencies, such as Apex Scotland, who help provide volunteers for the riding group.

In return the volunteers receive training in equine care and management and have contact with people who have a wide range of disabilities.

“They receive a certificate once their training is complete and they can then use that towards any CV for employment applications,” Debs added.

The benefits of their group are felt not just in the stable and in the field but throughout the wider community.

And for that, Wigtownshire is delighted to have the Happy Hooves on their doorstep.