Lethbridge charity helps kids, young adults with special needs through horseback riding

Program helps people with various physical and mental disabilities, says executive director.

The Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association provides adaptive riding programs for children and young adults with special needs. Saloni Bhugra CBC

Saloni Bhugra, CBC News Calgary October 22, 2022

Riding, brushing and walking Peeps is one of 13-year-old Roree’s favourite things to do. Roree said he loves Peeps, and that the horse is his best friend.

Roree and Peeps met through the Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association (LTRA), a charity that provides adaptive riding programs for children and young adults with special needs. It has been a part of the city for 45 years now.

Jason Shriner, executive director of the LTRA, said the program has helped people with various physical and mental disabilities — like people with diminished core strength because of an inability to walk with a traditional gait.

“A horse’s pelvis moves almost identical to the human pelvis. Moving and walking with a horse, their body is moving in the same way they’d be moving if they were walking with a traditional unrestricted gate,” said Shriner.

“Those muscles that are not being activated due to immobility issues, when they’re on the horse they’re being activated and strengthened.”

Emma Hendry Roues has been riding Joe for two years now. She said everything seems possible when she is with him.

“We have been through everything together,” she said.

“With horses, like I have this deep connection, especially with Joe, I’ve known him for quite a while so I just know everything is kind of going to be good.”

Emma’s father said whenever she is not feeling well, they bring her here and it cheers her up.

That effect from the relationship between humans and animals goes back a millennium, said Shriner, helping people reconnect to their inner self and make them feel loved.

“[Horses] are vulnerable in order to allow us to be with them. They are prey and we are predators, so in order for a horse to trust us they are giving out tremendous amounts of love that we feel,” Shriner said.

He said humans are vulnerable when they see a big animal being vulnerable with them, and that has a positive effect on people’s mental health.

Therapeutic Riding is a therapy using horses to help people with various disabilities. Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association, LTRA

Extending support to vulnerable groups

In the last two years, the LTRA started programs for seniors in long-term care facilities that were isolated during the peak of the pandemic. Horses were marched around the buildings as a part of the “Horses in the Window” program.

“It was really simple, really beautiful, and really pure,” Shriner said.

As restrictions were lifted, the program evolved and seniors were able to pet the horses and have a more tactile therapeutic experience.

The LTRA has also collaborated with the Alberta Health Services to provide therapy and other medical support to people in the core of the city. On Friday, horses, along with human experts in harm reduction, drug and alcohol treatment support, went to encampment sites in downtown Lethbridge.

“For someone chasing dangerous kinds of comforts that come from drugs and alcohol, for a moment they get genuine and authentic comfort,” Shriner said. “It reminds them of what it was like before all the hardships.”

In some cases, a person having that wholesome experience recognizes that they need help. Shriner said “it is super cool” that some people have felt loved and accepted to go to treatment centres.

Research on the impacts of equine therapy on mood and well-being is done at the University of Lethbridge. An important part of the research will also be the possible impact on caregivers and parents.

Saloni Bhugra, Editorial Assistant Contact  Saloni.bhugra@cbc.ca

Source CBC News Calgary

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