Emily Jones doesn’t fit neatly into a box.
The 11-year-old is developmentally disabled and has a variety of medical, physical and mental disabilities.
Her skill development is delayed and will never reach that of a typical child her age.
But five years ago she went to her first horse riding lesson at the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association and since then there has been a sizable difference in her physical ability, her attention span and her ability to follow instructions.
“She absolutely loves coming to riding lessons,” said her mother Toby Jones.
“She is doing remarkably well. Her core strength and her ability to lead the horse and do all those with assistance has dramatically improved,” she said.
Emily loved the lessons the very first time she went out. She goes once a week for half an hour.
“She can’t wait for them to help her mount the horse,” explained her mother.
“She knows the routine. She’s got her helmet, she gets her boots on. She knows where she is going.”
Emily also enjoys feeding the horse a treat, which she gets to do after each lesson.
Toby has not only seen improvement to her daughter’s core strength and her muscle tone, she also sees that Emily feels quite empowered by her new ability to ride a horse.
During a recent riding show a lot of Emily’s family turned out to watch her. Every time Emily passed by she would wave at them.
“It’s the only time she is looking down at people, whereas all the other times she is looking up. She is mentally empowered, she’s challenged. She is learning so many new skills,” said Toby.
Currently the organization that has done so much for Emily is in desperate need for volunteers.
Lately program coordinator Emily Felgnar has been out in the arena helping with riding lessons, instead of doing office work, because there is nobody else to help out.
The organization is looking for both leaders and side walkers.
A leader’s responsibility is leading the horse around the arena. A side walker paces beside the participant up on the horse to offer support. The side walker has the majority of the interaction, participating in the games and assisting the riders in the activities.
No experience is necessary and no horse experience is necessary. All volunteers are trained on how to get the horse ready for the lesson and everything they need to know for the arena.
“It’s quite straightforward,” said Jessie Fraser, executive director with the NFTRA.
Right now the NFTRA is looking for between eight to 12 volunteers.
“But we’ll take anyone at this point. We’ll never turn anyone down,” said Fraser.
During the summer session, lessons are Monday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday. All other sessions lessons run six days a week from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“That being said, if volunteers are limited for their time, we only require an hour and a half to two hours for volunteers,” said Fraser adding that if a volunteer wants to spend an entire morning helping out that’s great, but an hour and a half of their time and the organization is grateful.
The NFTRA offers equine facilitated riding lessons to people with disabilities, and with physical, cognitive or emotional challenges. More than 80 per cent of the riders are children.
“The beauty in being involved with this type of program is that you get to be outside, you are working around animals,” said Fraser.
The programs are subsidized. Families pay about one-third of the lesson fees for the actual class. The NFTRA doesn’t receive any government funding whatsoever.
“There is no other therapy that can duplicate this in a more clinical environment. The movement of the horse, duplicates that of a normal human walk, so it’s really a wonderful way for (participants) to develop core strength,” said Fraser.
There are a high percentage of children in the program who have autism. For those children the social interaction is key. They learn to interact with people with the help of the horse.
“Regardless what a person’s diagnosis, whether it’s autism or physical challenges, it’s the building of self esteem and self confidence. It literally can transform these kids into these confident, outgoing individuals,” Fraser explained.
“There is really a huge need for this,” said Fraser explaining that there is a waiting list. “If we could double our programs we would, but we can’t do it without volunteers. They are our backbone.”
They need anywhere from one to three volunteers per child. In September, there will be between 100 to 110 students at the centre.
Volunteer orientations are given four or five times per year.
Audrey Roberge, a volunteer with the organization for a year and a half, finds it very rewarding.
“When you see those kids up on those horses and they’re smiling from ear to ear, you just feel like you’ve done something good,” said the retired nurse.
For Toby, watching her daughter participate is soul food.
“People get so much out of watching these people accomplish the things that they can with the help of all these volunteers,” she said. “It takes an army of volunteers to make the program work to be honest.”
Recently the NFTRA held their biggest fundraising event, the Open Benefit Horse Show, where they raised $10,000.
The focus of the show was dressage for able bodied people but they included riders with disabilities as well.
2017 NFTRA Open Benefit Show Results:
Training Level - Junior Champion Brooke Jansen
Reserve Champion Taylor Walraven
First Level – Junior Champion Devlin Sheehan-Davies
Reserve Champion Danielle Hoskins
Training Level – Senior Champion Nicole Shewchuk
Reserve Champion Rachel Duck
First Level – Senior Champion Jessica Marquis
Reserve Champion Cathy Carl
High Point – Senior Nicole Shewchuk 78.08
High Point – Junior Brook Jansen 74.77
Most Sportsmanlike RDA Marie Hol
Junior Noa Carrier
Senior Fionna Christensen
Best Turn-Out RDA Hannah Carson
Junior Brooke Jansen
Senior Jessica Marquis