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Healing Horses: The Therapy of Horseback Riding

Healing Horses: The Therapy of Horseback RidingFor 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.”

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