When Margaret Behan started the Riding for the Disabled program more than two decades ago, she didn’t realise how big it would grow or how many lives she’d touch.

“I love teaching the kids to be able to do something that allows some to be independent and others an opportunity to do something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do recreationally,” Ms Behan says.

Riding for the Disabled offers equestrian activities for young people with disabilities or behavioural issues, or who are marginalised.

The Melton woman today received council’s citizen of the year award for her commitment to helping the city’s vulnerable.

“I’m excited and humbled,” Ms Behan said. “If you’re going to volunteer to get an award you’re wasting your time, but it’s really nice when this happens.”

Thomas Woof, 21, was named young person of the year for his work with local youth services, while Annette Buttworth has been recognised as this year’s access and inclusion leader for setting up BusyFeet Melton, a weekly dance session for children with disabilities.

“I never expected to have the opportunity to win something like this,” Mr Woof said. “It’s so exciting to be recognised in this way.”

Leonie Patterson was named woman of the year for opening her heart and home to more than 280 foster children since the early 1980s.

iCare Special Needs Group won the community project of the year award for bringing together parents and carers of children with special needs.

Moorabool council’s community event of the year award went to the Coimadai Memorial Park opening; young citizen of the year to Steve Tandy; citizen of the year to Marlene Burville; and mayor’s award to Nathan Ractliffe.