“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
For 30 years, the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society has addressed needs of physically, mentally and emotionally challenged residents of our community.
Using the barn at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as its home base, the CVTRS helps a client base of nearly 100 people of nearly all ages.
“Our goal is to enhance the well-being of our riders, be that physical, mental, or emotional,” said executive director Nancy King. “The horses help in the teaching of coping skills, for empathy, for compassion, for caring – the movement and the characteristics of the horses, those are the tools.”
The CVTRS has 14 horses in its stable. Three are owned by the society. The other 11 are seasonal “loaners.”
“We own Brydee, Bella and Max, and all the others are privately owned,” said fundraising and events co-ordinator Angela Walker. “Their owners graciously hand them over for the nine months (the CVTRS season is nine months long, beginning in the fall), and we take care of all of the costs. They live here and we maintain a staff, right through all the (holiday) breaks.”
Not every horse offered to the society is accepted. Head instructor and stable manager Teg Harper selects the horses and she said there are specific characteristics that must be addressed every time.
“It’s very important the type of horses that are used, that they have different gaits, different heights, different movements, different qualities… and then each individual rider is matched to a horse, based on whatever that rider needs to work on,” said Harper. “We need a stable of 14 horses to ensure that I have enough selection to be able to match riders and horses together.”
“It takes a special horse to be part of our program, because it’s not an exciting job for a horse,” said Walker. “It requires a lot of patience and a lot of skill.
“These horses immediately make a connection with their riders. They can read you in an instant. They work so hard with the riders and it’s not normal, what we are asking them to do.”
There is even some “superstar” blood among the stable.
Scout, a horse owned by CVTRS office manager Hilary Doucette, is the great, great grandson of Secretariat.
“Scout is really a local celebrity,” said Walker. “He was a racing horse until he had a stroke and lost his eye, so kids just think he is the coolest thing ever, because he has a visible disability. But he is just amazing with the kids – he’s like a giant puppy dog.”
Erica Farrell, a pediatric physiotherapist in the Valley who volunteers with CVTRS, said the program’s benefits are far-reaching.
“One of the best things about this program is that the kids don’t even realize they are doing therapy,” she said. “Also, everybody thinks about the physical benefits, but the emotional and mental benefits are also huge. Imagine yourself in a wheelchair always looking up to everybody else. Suddenly, on a horse, everybody else is looking up to you!”
The horses cost the society $4,943 each, per year for feed, bedding, shoes, training and routine veterinary care. That’s a total cost of $69,202 annually for the 14 horses on hand.
“The horses are obviously vital to the program – without the horses, there is no program. So the health and care of the horse is paramount to us,” said Harper. “In order for these horses to do their magic, they have to be very healthy.”
With that in mind, the CVTRS is hosting a 30th birthday party with the horses themselves being the special guest attractions. “Epona 2015” is an elegant evening of fine dining and fantastic entertainment on Sept. 26, in the very heart of the society’s environment – the CVEX barn.
Walker promises this will be a first-class affair.
“One of the first questions I have been getting asked by every woman is ‘how can a barn be elegant? Why would I have dinner in a barn?’ But it can be done,” she said. “I can assure you, this will be a transformation. Yes, you will smell the hay, but that’s OK – there has to be an element of connection to the evening.
“But other than that, I have a very elegant evening in mind. I am thinking about women coming here in their nice dresses and their high heels. I am not going to let them get dirty. We will put the floor down, like we do for MusicFest, and give it a sort of Spruce Meadows feeling.”
The evening will begin with champagne and appetizers, and the opportunity for guests to get up close and personal with each of the 14 “equine staff members.”
There will also be a fashion show, featuring the horses and other CVTRS staff and volunteers.
The Bees Kneez will be catering the event, with Luke Blu Guthrie providing the musical entertainment.
“The ultimate goal (of the event) is to find sponsors for each of the 14 horses,” said Walker. “With Teg at the helm, these horses are all extremely well cared for, but in order to do that – the best possible vet care, the best possible food, the best possible shoes, that’s how much it costs.
“Right now, it’s all paid for through any other fundraising that we do, and the grants that we are constantly (applying for) at the office. That in itself can be (all consuming). We could sit here all week, writing, and may get nothing for it. Then some weeks we will get two in a week. But it’s a hard way to do things.”
The CVTRS is introducing a sponsorship package, with different levels, from as little as $100 per year, right up to a $5,000 sponsorship – which would completely fund one horse.
That said, Epona 2015 is not an auction of any sort. There will be no on-site bidding for sponsorship. As much as anything, it’s a meet-and-greet for the horses and their possible financial facilitators.
“There will be no pressure – all we are going to do … is show them videos, pictures, let them meet the actual horses, and then (they can) decide what they want to do,” said Walker. “It might be something that just sticks with them for a year and then next year they say ‘you know what? I really want to do that.’”
To purchase tickets for Epona 2015, or to learn more abut the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society, go to cvtrs.com