Therapeutic riding horses help people with special needs

Dogs may be a man's best friend, but when it comes those facing physical, mental and emotional challenges, horses fill the need.

VOLUNTEERS ACCOMPANY RIDERS along one of the many trails used during one of eight Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society programs offered three times a year.

VOLUNTEERS ACCOMPANY RIDERS along one of the many trails used during one of eight Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society programs offered three times a year.

Dogs may be a man’s best friend, but when it comes those facing physical, mental and emotional challenges, horses fill the need.

The Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society (CVTRS) uses horses to provide riding three seasons of the year, fours days a week for people of all ages in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.

Marg Hind, program director since the inception of the society, said 160 individuals currently use the program.

Established in 1985, participants gain physical, psychological and social benefits from the program. Therapeutic riding can improve balance and co-ordination, strengthen muscles, increase circulation and motor function.

Communication skills can also be improved through increased interaction with riders, volunteers, instructors and horses themselves.

CVTRS offers eight programs in three 10-week sessions per year. The programs range from hippotherapy (therapy, lessons, trail rides for multiple handicapped children and adults) to the equine experiential learning (for autism spectrum disorders) and the vaulting program (for developing balance, confidence and harmony with the horse, specifically for at-risk children).

“We work in with a couple of therapists on loan from the Ministry of Children and Family services, and there are a conglomeration of individuals from the hospital,” explained Hind. “We are modelling our program with the help of these people.”

Instruction is given by qualified instructors under the guidance of physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

CVTRS offers rides in a covered area, outside riding rings and through wooded trails on the banks of the Tsolum River.

Horses used for the program are specifically trained for use with disabled people, and include a quarter horse, welsh pony and a bay arab.

“We have 14 horses and they come from different areas of the Island,” noted Hind, who added the horses are on lease for the winter, but the society has to pay for food and board.

The society may use up to 90 volunteers a week, with up to four volunteers required for every rider.

Volunteer duties may include horse grooming, putting on tack, leading the horse or walking beside the horse to provide security for the rider.

Hind said volunteers are also required, and no previous equine experience is required.

“We offer workshops for volunteers; they are always going on,” she added.

CVTRS is also collecting pennies at a variety of locations to raise money to purchase the property next to the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds where they operate — Stonehenge Farm. The site would be used primarily for the stable program.

Jars are available for donations at a variety of businesses including Extreme Ends, Broken Spoke and Art Knapp, with a goal to eventually raise $350,000 for a down payment.

To volunteer, or for more information on the CVTRS, visit www.cvtrs.com, email cvtrs@telus.net or call 250-338-1968.

photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com