While the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society is celebrating its 29th year of operation, it’s a bittersweet anniversary for the organization.
Despite operating at capacity and maintaining a waiting list, the society will be closing their Stonehenge Farm facility at the end of the month, a facility which hosts their Stable Program — a way to teach children and youth how to manage their emotions, particularly those who struggle with anxiety, depression and mental health issues.
“We’re very sad. It will be a struggle, but we’ll figure out a way to make it work,” said Stable Program Manager Jane Buchanan.
The program began operating out of Stonehenge Farm, an adjacent barn to the society’s Comox VAlley Exhibition Grounds facility since 2012.
The property was a two-year ‘lease to purchase’ agreement and the society was not able to purchase the land and building, explained Buchanan.
“Our dream is to have a facility just for working with mental health. It’s definitely a different energy and different horses are needed for the program (than those in the main facility),” she added.
“Horses are prey animals and they are constantly reading for danger. You have to present a confident manner to feel safe, and they have the ability to provide biofeedback in real time; they have the ability to regulate emotions.”
Buchanan noted the program is able to guide students to practice mindfulness — being in the moment — how to regulate emotions and finding confidence within themselves.
“Children can mask how they are feeling; a beautiful smile on an eight-year-old can’t always tell you everything,” she said.
Izzy (who asked her last name not be used), a parent whose 14-year-old daughter uses the Stable Program, said it is an invaluable resource that helps many aspects of her daughter’s life.
“(The program) removes their anxieties. It gives them tools and makes connections that they can use outside of the program. She now has friends and goes to social events … it’s really impacted her life.”
Izzy said outside of the program, her daughter volunteers at the stable, which won’t be possible following the move.
“The physical work (shovelling) helps with the mental work. That’s not going to happen at the other barn; It will have an impact.”
She noted if the program — which she pays for out-of-pocket — was supported or connected through the school district and had financial backing, it would mostly likely remain open.
“It could also get the recognition it would need. There’s definitely a stigma attached, I think that’s what holds it back. It’s a shame; here’s a program that could help our youth. What are they going to do?”
Buchanan added the program will close for the summer and begin again with the start of the new school year in the fall.
To volunteer, or for more information on the CVTRS, visit www.cvtrs.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-338-1968.