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Fundraiser makes hay for equine therapy ranch in Springbank

Robinson Outreach at RiverCross Ranch strives to relieve the conditions associated with youth and elderly in need, by providing Equine Assisted Learning and related Therapies
Marian Koosel gets kisses from "Kisses," the miniature horse at the Robinson Outreach at RiverCross Ranch.

It wasn’t very noisy as the good folks at the ROARR ranch played their video for gathered guests and donors Friday, with perhaps the only sound being the rustle of Kleenex to dab some eyes, as the narrator’s voiceover said, “In the horse’s presence hearts ignite.”

ROARR (Robinson Outreach at RiverCross Ranch) strives to relieve the conditions associated with youth and elderly in need, by providing Equine Assisted Learning and related Therapies. EAL is an experiential life skills program that helps participants become strong, confident human beings. Participants engage in objective driven exercises and find themselves learning valuable life skills in a fun, exciting atmosphere while working with horses.

Seeing the looks on the kids’ and seniors’ faces in the video it’s impossible not to be moved.

Marian Koosel is about as far away from being a ‘horse person’ as can be imagined. She was born and raised in England, and has always been a city person. The 84-year-old now lives at Hawthorne seniors facility in Cochrane. She’s not reluctant at all about revealing her age.

“I’m getting there. I thank the Lord every day that I wake up,” she said with a giggle.

She came to visit the ranch a month ago, and found her interaction with a little horse “very pleasurable” Friday.

She clearly is hooked on the whole experience, as she accepts kisses from, well, Kisses –  who forms one half of the locally famous miniature horse duo, Hugs and Kisses.

“That’s as close as I’ve been to a horse in my life,” she said.

She said she feels her mood improve after every equine interaction.

“It’s very hard to explain, it doesn’t take much to get emotional,” she said.

She plans on returning as much as possible and encourages others to take part in the horse visits.

“Especially if they’re feeling lonely,” she said.

ROARR director Marilyn MacLean said the rising cost of transportation has become a challenge.

“We want it to be so there are no barriers, and sometimes transportation can be a barrier,” she said.

There are youth programs for at-risk kids, seniors programs where miniature horses are brought to visit them, and another program at the ranch, where seniors come out and get involved in grooming and other hands-on activities.

MacLean said sometimes seniors can just shut down emotionally if they start to feel isolated, and the boost the horses provide helps them get in touch with their emotions.

In the last few years, ROARR noticed the rise in transportation costs was forcing seniors homes to charge their residents for some of the added expense which was creating hardships for some and keeping others from being able to attend.

Friday’s gathering was specifically designed to thank donors who responded directly to the transportation challenge.

The Rocky Mountain Rotary Club in Cochrane was the first to step up and select ROARR as their GALA sponsorship recipient with $33,000 designated for the transportation of young people and seniors. The Calgary Stampede Rotary Club gave a $5,000 grant for this transportation cause as well.

In 2023, the ROARR Board agreed to do what they could to make this program accessible. One of their strategic goals for ROARR 2024 is to raise money to cover any additional transportation cost that would have been charged to seniors themselves or was inhibiting young people from attending the needed programs.

How horses help

Horses respond immediately to the messages that individuals give them in the moment. Building a relationship with a horse is similar to forming one with another person. Through their interactions with horses, individuals not only become more aware of how they communicate with others, but begin to recognize the consequences of their actions and choices. Learning to trust and communicate with a 1,200 pound animal is very empowering. That, in and of itself, is a memorable experience.

In addition to the EAL programs, participants are able to engage in extra-curricular activities when they visit the ranch. ROARR provides classes, life coaching sessions, and other life enhancing opportunities.  

The impact on non-verbal youth and seniors has produced some amazing results. Through their interactions with horses, individuals not only become more aware of how they communicate with each other, but begin to recognize the consequence of their actions and choices. Learning to trust and communicate with a horse is very empowering.

Seniors from areas throughout and surrounding Calgary and Cochrane area have opportunities to visit RiverCross Ranch to interact with the horses and facilitators. They are given this chance to leave the confinements of their rooms and facilities and experience the beauty of RiverCross Ranch and experience some lost or new emotional connections with these gentle animals.

Young people have benefited from the 6-week programs as they work through objective driven exercises with horses to help them overcome barriers or limitations that they have set for themselves through trauma, social anxieties and limited social development. Young people develop meaningful, trusting relationships with healthy and recognizable boundaries. 

We have watched how horses are able to create teachable moments that are a reaction to what is happening in the ‘now’. Horses allow participants to let go of the past, forget about the pressures of the future and just be in the moment with them.

Facilitators are trained to design each program strategically to the needs of the group and parallel what they are learning to challenges they may face day to day.

Children have experienced empathy and kindness as well as learning how to combat behavioral disorders, low self-esteem, bullying, drug abuse, illness related to mental health and unhealthy social development.

The ranch is just off Springbank Road, about a 20 minute ride from Cochrane.

Friday also marked the kickoff of ROARR’s overall fundraising year. MacLean said they commonly receive funding from all over Alberta.

For more information on programs or how to donate go to

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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