For many families, the promise of therapeutic horse riding is just that: a promise.
“It's been something on my list for our daughter for years. I've searched high and low around here, all different ranches out in the country,” said Mercedes Bender.
She noted that there’s only one Edmonton facility where she could potentially sign up for the service, but it takes between 18 months and three years to get to the front of the line for it. Everywhere else that offers therapeutic riding only does so for kids starting at age seven.
Bender’s five-year-old daughter, Brianna, has cerebral palsy, which mostly affects the left side of her body. She’s high-functioning but the benefits that she could get from hippotherapy are unignorable. And so they wait.
“So we've just been waiting to see how she grows up a little bit and put her in programming then. It would be something that helps with gait and balance and just a lot of emotional reasons for her to have that connection with the horses.”
Therapeutic horse riding can give special needs children the chance to develop balance and co-ordination, not to mention gain untold emotional benefits. It’s exactly those reasons that make it so popular. Unfortunately, supply (in the form of ranches with trained staff) hasn’t caught up.
Bender and her daughter are just two faces in the crowd who have a lot of hopes riding on this weekend’s Kidzstock. Along with all of the pony and horse rides happening for one and all at the Putting Horse Ranch north of Spruce Grove, there will be a bevy of entertainment with live music and other on-stage performers, plus a mini golf course, arts and crafts, and more.
The new two-day event isn’t simply another festival to occupy the calendar. It’s working to draw attention to the facility and its efforts to establish the Hooves to Hope Society, a new therapeutic horseriding program. For its main organizer Liz Poburan, it represents the culmination of a decade-long vision.
She first gave it a go with all of her enthusiasm but eventually realized that she needed the kind of help that just wasn’t available to her back then. Things are different now. Hooves has helping hands belonging to people who are close to those who stand to benefit.
“Now I have the help. The girls that are helping me ... a lot of them have children with special needs from the Cerebral Palsy Association. They're on the board of directors. When I told them about my vision and my dream, they just said, ‘This is amazing. We want to help.’ So thank God for them bringing my dream back to life,” Poburan said.
“I only had it going for a short time because at that time, my vision was different. I wanted to use it to help kids in school but now I can use it to help more people because we've had 10 years under our belt here. I see the benefit of allowing people dealing with PTSD or they might have a head injury or they just need to just get out and do something and horses are so calming and good.”
She and her husband Chris run the Putting Horse Ranch as a golf-slash-equestrian business year-round. They offer camps and riding lessons for anyone five and up on the horse side of things, but developing a therapeutic practice is a new chapter. Things participants can learn about includes brushing, leading and riding with light instruction.
“All this time, I've been trying to get to the place where I could do this, and so now Putting Horse Ranch is here. We've been doing the rides for the public. I know my horses are older, which is great. I know that this really helps people,” Poburan ended.
For Brianna Bender and many others like her, the hope is that it’s going to be a life-changing experience. She’s at the age where she’s active but it takes more work for her to run and jump and play. She often can’t keep up with her younger brother and mother Mercedes sees how that affects her self-confidence.
“Brianna loves life. She just loves everything. She loves people. She tries really hard at everything that she's involved in. She's also a very girly girl. She's always really loved horses so even just for the emotional aspect of the therapeutic riding would just be huge for her.”