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An enthusiastic ‘two thumbs up’ for VTEA

February 23, 2012

VTEA gives people, who normally have restrictions on their mobility, the ability to move easily and to engage in sensory experiences that they normally wouldn’t get. They can leave their canes, their walkers and their wheelchairs behind to experience a breeze on the face, the warmth of a horse moving beneath them, the smell of a barn, the sounds of birds, and the sight of a rabbit, coyote or deer in the forest.

I meet Doug and his day-worker Tracey. Doug is 37 years old and has been coming to VTEA for 4 years. Tracey has told Doug ahead of time that today is the day to ride and that he needs to listen. He is quite excited – it is his favourite day of the week. Doug is not able to speak but, as we are talking, Tracey asks him if he is excited about riding and he grins and grunts enthusiastically.

Doug is quite stiff and requires a lot of assistance to move. Tracey carefully moves him onto the stretching barrel and slowly works him through a range of motions so that he can open his legs enough to ride the horse. It must be particularly difficult today because it is cold but when he finishes his ride, he will be much more flexible. When both Doug and his horse are warmed up, Doug is helped to the platform where he backs his way down onto the horse and then is helped to swing his legs around. Tracey’s fondness for Doug is clear, she beams at him as he goes through his exercises. Doug loves animals and pats his horse affectionately. His horses are moving through the colours of the rainbow – he started with Blue, moved to Red and today is riding a white horse named Reba.

“Sit up nice and tall,” Sandra tells Doug. He does so and he, the supporting volunteers, and Sandra head out from the barn for a new adventure.

As luck would have it, many of the clients have cancelled because of the cold. The only other client I get to meet today is Dale. Dale is a character. He has arrived with his helmet already on and is wearing his very own cowboy boots. Dale determinedly marches out along the ramp to the platform to await his horse. He high-fives his volunteer excitedly then turns and gives me not one but ‘two thumbs up’.

I am struck by the thought and care that has gone into the program starting with the special Supracor saddles that many of the clients use. These saddles, instead of the rigid saddles that most riders are used to, consist of honeycomb cells topped with fabric which flex and allow the rider to feel the horse’s movements as well as the warmth of the animal which helps limber up their muscles. The riders wear special belts with handles that a side-walker can use to help support them and for safety reasons. Typically three or four people accompany the horse and rider. The side-walkers and the lead person are usually volunteers. An instructor with years of training and experience in working with people with special needs and in managing horses is always present. The instructors must have certifications from CanTRA (Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association) and annually take courses to maintain and upgrade their qualifications.

Before the clients mount up many of them stretch out their tight muscles on half barrels. Once settled on the horse, they do a series of stretches to warm up their muscles. In the barn, the riders may do a dressage type activity by going around barrels which teaches them how to direct their horse. They may play some games such as basketball which helps with visual acuity, coordination and strength. As they ride through the forest, their senses of smell, vision and hearing are awakened by the sounds of the forest as well as visual markers that are placed along the trail. A butterfly, a face on a tree, a gnome and his pal tucked in some leaves.

Next VTEA post, some information about the program, the people behind it and some new initiatives

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2012 10:45 am

    Thanks for showcasing VTEA. It’s heartwarming to hear about the kind of experience this organization offers to those with special needs. Cheers!

    • March 4, 2012 3:38 pm

      Sorry to be so late to respond to your comment. I was very impressed by the organization and the commitment of the people who help the clients with special needs.

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