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How a $10,000 toque is helping horses heal B.C.’s hurt heroes

Honour Ranch near Ashcroft set to offer equine therapy program to help first responders

The Honour Ranch sits on 120 secluded acres near Ashcroft.

It opened in 2019, a peaceful space that provides facilities, and support for members of the armed forces, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders to cope with operational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Thanks to the generosity of New Westminster’s Royal City Rotary Club, and Leanne Dynneson and her $10,000 toque, it will soon be able to realize its goal of connecting these men and women with a team of horses in a healing form of equine therapy.

The ranch — located off Highway 97C some 14 kilometres southeast of Ashcroft — is operated by the Honour House Society, which established Honour House in New Westminster in 2010. The House has provided more than 10,000 nights of free accommodation for uniformed personnel and their families while they receive medical care in the Lower Mainland.

Partly because of its location, equine therapy has long been on the cards for Honour Ranch. Equine therapy consists of programs where professionals guide clients through activities with horses. There are different kinds of equine programs, and they have different goals for the people involved. Some programs are part of mental health treatment; in other cases, clients ride horses as part of a physical or occupational therapy regimen.

Nick Jordan, past president of the Royal City Rotary Club in New Westminster, says the club has been a supporter of Honour House since its inception, and members wanted to know what they could do to support Honour Ranch.

“We asked ‘What can we do to help?’ and learned that Honour Ranch needed help. So we donated $26,000 for materials to build a paddock and a horse shelter.”

“We wanted to help with the therapy side, and this allows it to take place,” says Lizz Kelly, another of the club’s past presidents. “The equine therapy program is so important.”

Honour House Society founder and president Al De Genova says volunteers provided the labour to build the paddock and shelter. A SeaCan on the property will be moved to the paddock as a place to store feed for the horses and keep it safe from vermin, and a decades-old cabin near the paddock will be re-fitted to create a living space for a caretaker.

“We also got sponsors for the hay,” adds De Genova. “The Ashcroft Legion helped with that, and others started to help. We had been worried because the price of hay is through the roof.”

All that was needed were the horses, which is where Dynneson stepped in and stepped up. A paramedic for eight years, she now works at a veterinary clinic in Merritt, and has firsthand knowledge of what the Honour House Society does.

“After I’d been a paramedic for nearly a year I wanted to give back to the community, so I decided to cut my hair, which was down to my waist. I wondered who I could help, and someone mentioned Honour House, which was new then. I said I’d raise $10,000 with the help of fellow paramedics and firefighters, so we had raffles and auctions. On the day of the haircut we were still short, so firefighters across Canada helped raise enough.

“I got a toque from Honour House,” she says with a laugh. “I call it my $10,000 toque.”

Dynneson says that while being a paramedic was an amazing career, it took its toll. An on-the-job incident left her with PTSD, and she says that getting up and looking after the horses she and her late father, Tom “Rock Creek” Dynneson, owned kept her going.

“I had to get up and look after the animals. It gives you purpose, because they count on you to feed and look after them.”

Her father died two years ago, and Dynneson found that the cost of maintaining six horses gradually became too much: “I was left with lots of horses but no money.” She made the difficult decision to list one of them, Teddy, for sale, and says that De Genova reached out to her almost immediately.

“Al met Teddy, a gelding, and felt he was a perfect fit. I had a mare, Indy, and she and Teddy are both 16 years old and related; they’ve been together their whole life. It was truly incredible to find a home for them together.”

All of Dynneson’s horses are cowboy horses, which is one reason she felt that Honour Ranch was the perfect home for them. Teddy and Indy will soon be joined by another of Dynneson’s horses: Bandito, who was rescued off the range at one month old.

“We didn’t think he would make it, as he had horrible wounds, but Dad and I raised him, and he’s now five years old. He’s a special boy who I think will fit right in.”

De Genova says that to all intents and purposes the horses are still Dynneson’s; the ranch is just looking after them for her.

“As a paramedic, this is her place, and she has a connection to it. It was a very magical and emotional day when the horses were posted. I saw Teddy and he was the warmest, most loving horse.”

He adds that a certified equine therapy program person from Pritchard will run the program, but that Dynneson will continue to play a large part in the horses’ lives, and will be learning more about the therapy program.

“I had to make a decision about my horses, and I want to be involved with the program here,” Dynneson says. “I think it will be wonderful to share them.”

READ ALSO: Tour of Honour supporting military, first responders kicks off in Chilliwack

Barbara Roden

About the Author: Barbara Roden

I joined Black Press in 2012 working the Circulation desk of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and edited the paper during the summers until February 2016.
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