#TeamSam - A winning combination dancing to support RDA in NZ

New Zealand Riding for the Disabled (NZRDA) is determined that its share of the Dancing with the Stars money will help kick-start something that benefits people with disabilities for years to come.

Twelve celebrities (each dancing for charity) competed on Three’s hit entertainment show, won by Newshub co-presenter Sam Hayes in July. MediaWorks has announced the show raised just over $424,000 – a record high for Three and more than 5 times the amount raised for charity during the show’s previous season in 2015. The money was raised via the public text voting for their favourite dancer to stay on the show, and it will be split among the 12 charities according to the number of votes each celebrity received.

Sam Hayes raised just over $120,000, capturing nearly 30% of all the public votes cast across the season. Her charity, NZRDA, provides goal-based horse riding activities that build the ability, strength and confidence of people with physical, intellectual, social and emotional challenges. NZRDA Chief Executive Chris Hooper says there are a lot of pressing needs it could apply the funds to. But the charity wants to take a considered view and it won’t be rushing out to spend its share.

Mr Hooper said “We want to respect the massive effort of Sam and her dance partner Aaron Gilmore, who trained intensively and danced wonderfully throughout the show. We’re so grateful to them, and we want to honour that and to extend the impact of Dancing with the Stars if we can. So, we’re looking to apply this wonderful support towards a special project that is tangible, exciting and long-lasting. It will be something that’s focussed on helping us to double the number of people with disabilities that we can assist over the next few years.”

“We want to come up with something that will potentially benefit RDA riders in every region of the country. One possibility we’re considering is putting more money into covering the upkeep and training costs of all our RDA horses throughout the country. That’s a big task – as we have nearly 500 horses. But the Dancing with the Stars money could be a great kick-start to get something like this underway. We definitely want to focus on something that will help us to reach more riders and change more lives.”

NZRDA currently assists nearly 3,400 riders at its 55 affiliated RDA venues throughout New Zealand. The charity relies heavily on the generosity of the community. Without the support of individual, business, trust and foundation donors and its 1,600 volunteers, RDA venues just couldn’t keep operating each year.

Mr Hooper said NZRDA is immensely grateful to Sam Hayes and Aaron Gilmore. “They danced beautifully and they deserved their win. They were fantastic advocates for the benefits of therapeutic riding for the disabled. We loved meeting them and showing them how goal-based riding can be just like ‘physiotherapy on a horse’.”

“RDA is both fun and hard work, and it builds the ability, strength and confidence of our riders. Most of our riders are young children or teenagers. Along with their families and our RDA volunteers, our riders were hugely excited to follow and support Sam and Aaron’s dancing journey, and they were very proud to receive such fantastic support on prime-time TV. We can’t thank Sam and Aaron enough. We also very much appreciate the wonderful support of the public and everyone who voted for #TeamSam – thank you!”

Mr Hooper said: “We’re really pleased that Sam wants to continue supporting NZRDA and helping us to ensure that even more people get to experience the proven benefits of therapeutic riding. Over time and as her busy schedule permits, we certainly hope to give Sam the opportunity to do that, to see ‘RDA in action’, and to get her out and about and meeting as many of our RDA people and horses as possible.”

Sam Hayes said she was stunned, ecstatic and unbelievably proud of everyone involved with Dancing with the Stars for raising such a whopping amount for all their nominated charities. Sam said "I'm a proud supporter of NZRDA and I'm so, so happy Aaron and I have been able to raise this money for the work they do in the community for people with disabilities."

"Knowing we were dancing for such a great cause made us train harder and longer, and we were lucky enough to have the support of so many voters around the country. I'm a bit stunned by how much money has been raised in total for all the charities – wow $424,000 – and I know that NZRDA will put its share to good use."