Children and adults with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities benefit immensely from programs at the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association.
However, the association depends heavily on volunteers to be able to take riders out.
Currently they have about eight riders who have been assessed for the program and approved, but who are unable to benefit from the equine therapy because there are not enough volunteers to support them.
Longtime volunteer Gay Conn said they are looking for volunteers who are available during the day and who are physically fit.
Retired seniors are usually a good fit for the program, she said. And, Conn added, they are looking for as many volunteers as possible. And the volunteers will benefit physically too.
“It’s a healthy activity. You are outside getting fresh air and exercise,” she said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a reduction in their numbers, they are working hard to return to 70 riders each week, using seven horses, three instructors, and more than 100 dedicated volunteers.
When Conn started volunteering with the association almost two decades ago, she said it was a real “eye-opening experience.” She didn’t have any experience with people with disabilities before.
“It really enriched my life to see how people face challenges… and just how much having a program like this meant to them,” she said.
Conn also noted that those interested do not need any experience with horses. New volunteers mentor with experienced volunteers.
However, she said, volunteers need to be able to side-walk with a horse, that is when a volunteer is needed on either side of the animal while it is moving to support the rider. Or a volunteer might also have to lead a horse.
Conn noted the association has a gentle herd of animals who are well taken care of and who have been with the organization for a long time – and who are seniors themselves.
Some riders find it difficult to have different people help them during their lesson, so Conn is hoping new volunteers will be able to give up at least two hours at the same time each week, so they can support the same riders.
“Even if we were to change their horse, for some riders that’s a lot to absorb,” she said.
And sometimes they even need about three people plus the instructor for a single rider.
“That’s a lot of volunteers,” she exclaimed.
North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association, NFTRA, is a non-profit charitable organization enriching the lives of children and adults who experience physical, mental, emotional or social challenges by providing safe and professional therapeutic equine programming through either private or semi-private sessions. The association has been active in the community for more than 40 years.
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