5 February 1999

Magic moments for disabled on carriage front

Disability need be no bar to

carriage driving, as

Ann Rogers discovered when

she visited the Magic Trust

GORDON McClurg is an enthusiastic carriage driver though muscular dystrophy prevents him from moving or lifting his arms.

Gordon controls the pony with his voice while a co-driver takes the reins, explains Bodil Boanas of Ogle Castle, near Ponteland, Northumberland, founder of The Magic Trust which has introduced Gordon and a host of other disabled people to the pleasures of carriage driving over the past four years.

In fact Gordon, now studying at Newcastle University, drove on the trusts first outing back in 1994. There is a photograph showing Gordon, Bo and helper Caroline setting out in the trap drawn by Magic, the pony which Bos daughter outgrew and which has since played such an important part in the lives of all connected with the charitable trust which bears its name.

The outing was the start of many carriage driving experiences for Gordon, including the exciting picnic ride he described in the trusts magazine. About 20 vehicles set out on an expedition which was a great success despite torrential rain.

Fellow enthusiast Bill Headley, a senior citizen and a sufferer from motor neurone disease, also writes in the magazine. The trust did not introduce Bill to horses – he grew up with Clydesdales on the family farm, broke his first one at 17 and worked with them for much of his farm-working life. But the ponies at Ogle Castle have given him a great deal of pleasure.

"Just messing around with the ponies," has returned a lot of the colour to Daphne Turners life. Daphne was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of a riding accident. Now she enjoys driving as well as the tack cleaning sessions at the end of the day and plans to take a British Driving Society qualification.

Bo is keen to see many of the helpers pass their BDS exams to ensure that the trust goes on after she lets go the reins. Magic was broken to harness for her pleasure, once her daughter had lost interest in riding. Bo took residential courses to learn carriage driving and the trust grew from her desire to take her friends out driving with her. Bo and her friend Miranda Dickinson provided traps for their ponies, Magic and Mirandas Fell pony Gallant. Bos carriage was a new one built to accommodate a wheelchair and as word spread a small but enthusiastic group of disabled people and helpers were soon driving regularly.

&#42 Independent

The Magic Trust is not part of the Riding for the Disabled Association although Bo has worked with a RDA group and passed the RDA driving test. The trust maintains its independence to enable it to accommodate people with electric wheel chairs and youngsters under 16 years of age, Bo explains.

While Magic is still the most important pony, the trust now has four; Magic, Rosie, Billy and Bumper. Bumper, who used to pull a greengrocers trolley, is the newcomer. He was bought to replace the aged Dorothy and is the reason for many of this winters fund raising events. He was bought with money put aside for the insurance and £950 has to be found by May to pay the annual premium.

&#42 Many involved

So many people are involved with the trust in one way or another. There are those who help look after the ponies and keep them exercised; trustees and people like the bank manager who serves as honorary treasurer, and the elderly gentleman who paints signs for the vehicles. There are those who help raise funds and those who help during the twice-weekly driving sessions that take place most of the year.

They need at least four helpers to each carriage: One to hold the pony, a driver to take the second pair of reins, and a couple of people to help load wheelchairs which are clamped in place in the vehicle. When on the highway, carriages are preceded and followed by someone in a car or on a bike to ensure safety.

"I prefer to be on a bike," says helper Rachel Lloyd. "I enjoy the exercise and feel more in touch." Its also easier when gates have to be opened and closed as they go along bridleways and tracks.

"Apart from doing what you like to do with horses and helping disabled people, theres companionship. I have met lots of lovely people since I have been here," says Pat Austic. She takes charge of the teapot as carriage drivers and helpers chat around Bos dining table revealing to Farmlife something of the magic produced by The Magic Trust.