Horse Sense puts out volunteer call
Therapeutic riding session highlight of the week for many riders
By: By Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 06:00 am
Seven-year-old Owen Reilly doesn’t easily share the activities of his week with those around him, but there is someone he is always willing to tell.
That is Maverick, a horse at Horse Sense Training and Petting Zoo in Sturgeon County. For about two years now Reilly, who has been diagnosed with autism, has been taking part in Horse Sense’s therapeutic riding program. In that two years Reilly has ridden Maverick almost exclusively and the two have formed a bond his mom still finds curious.
“We tried lots of different sports – soccer, swimming, but nothing has really resonated with him, nothing has worked out,” Jane Reilly says. “So horseback riding was the change to get him involved in something he can enjoy.”
Horse Sense runs the program twice a year – once in the fall and once in the spring, and Helen Lomas, its volunteer co-ordinator, is putting out the call for volunteers for this year’s fall program, which starts Sept. 21.
The goal, Lomas says, is to give children and adults with mental and physical challenges the experience of riding horses. The benefits to those riders, said Lomas, are many.
“For the more physically disabled persons, there are muscle toning and strengthening benefits,” Lomas said. “You’re sitting straight, you’re balancing and you’re using muscles you might not actually use.”
For those with mental challenges, it can help those riders focus on one activity at a time. It also gives them confidence, Lomas said, and can even help calm them.
“Horses can be a very calming animal,” says Lomas. “They are very empathic so they react to how you’re feeling. They can help you calm down just by stroking them.”
For many riders, the riding sessions are the highlight of the week, like for 35-year-old David Jickels. Diagnosed with autism, Jickels’ mother Jean said her son is always enthusiastic for his riding class.
“It just makes his life better because he has something he can look forward to and something he really likes,” said Jean. “That’s important for everybody.”
The volunteers are key to the success of the program, Lomas said, and can range from students looking for experience and school credits to older adults who love horses.
Responsibilities include grooming and tacking the horses and also walking alongside the horses and leading them, as well as encouraging the riders and helping them play games.
“Some volunteers have said it makes them appreciate what they have in terms of seeing other people achieve things that possibly they were frightened to achieve themselves,” says Lomas. “It’s just great work experience, it’s a fun environment and they make new friends.”
The volunteers, says Jean, are what make the program run so smoothly.
“They really are nice, nice people,” Jean says. “They are very keen. They make friends with everyone who’s there.”
Anyone over the age of 13 can apply to become a volunteer. More details, as well as a volunteer application, are available at www.horsesensezoo.com.