Therapeutic horse riding and adaptive sports groups share knowledge

Noriko Ohsada and her daughter Meg meet with Rundle Riders Therapeutic Riding Association instructor Sue Clark at an information session with Rocky Mountain Adaptive Sports and guest speakers at St. Michael’s Anglican Church hall on Friday, March 23, 2018. Pam Doyle

Pam Doyle, The Crag and Canyon April 4, 2018

Spring programs are starting for two local groups devoted to helping disabled people to enjoy recreational sports. They held an information session in Canmore on March 23.

The Rundle Riders Therapeutic Riding Association and Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) were on hand at St. Michael’s Anglican Church hall with several guest speakers who shared the benefits of sport.

Rundle Riders is a not for profit association in its 17th year in the Bow Valley. The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association recognizes the program. Lessons are held from May to October at the horse riding complex at Camp Chief Hector YMCA, which is a 20-minute drive east of Canmore on the Trans-Canada Highway.

“We provide opportunities in the Bow Valley area for people of all abilities to participate in therapeutic riding in a safe environment with trained, special horses and with a team of volunteers that we train,” Sue Clark, instructor said.

Clark is the only instructor and the association needs more, but they have to be well trained in many aspects of teaching volunteers and rider safety.

“I started off as a volunteer, so knowing the components of volunteering, like what’s needed for someone to lead the horses, or what’s needed for a volunteer to side walk has definitely helped. I know the riders very well, so when I’m working with them I know how to organize the horses and the volunteers, having had that experience.”

The limit is 16 participants for the program, which runs outdoors from May to October. Rundle Riders are always in need of volunteers to be horse leaders and side walkers, (who ensure the rider stays atop the horse). The next volunteer training day is on Sunday, April 29. If you would like to sign up please contact sue@rundleriders.com and check out their website at www.rundleriders.com.

“The program is heavily subsidized because we have been fortunate to do casinos with AGLC for quite some time,” Clark said.

People who benefit from the program include those with amputations, stroke, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism, Down syndrome, developmental delay, visual, hearing and speech impairments, emotional disturbances and learning disabilities.

Noriko Ohsada’s daughter Meg was one of the first participants with Rundle Riders when she was six years old. Meg is now 23.

“She was a tiny girl on a big horse and I didn’t have any idea what the benefit would be,” Noriko said. “We took the RMA ski program and naturally faded away from the horse. Meg grew, graduated from high school and then met new challenges. Her mental and emotional states were affected after she left school. So we went back to Rundle Riders.

Meg grew up. She has stronger muscle tone and now she brushes, feeds and communicates with her horse, Noriko said.

“We receive lots of love and support. It takes the pressure off of the parent.” Noriko said. “Hopefully, this network grows.”

The benefits of therapeutic riding are enormous.

The movement of a horse mimics the movement of a human pelvis as you are walking,” said Linda Rault, riding administrator for Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association for Persons with Disabilities, based in Edmonton. “There are no other machines or bikes that will mimic that movement. And horses are non-judgmental.”

When a child gets on a horse, they don’t realize the benefits they are receiving, like increased confidence, improved muscle control and strength, better balance and coordination, ability to take a risk, a sense of accomplishment and independence, and greater self esteem.

“For someone who has sat in a wheelchair all their life, and now they are sitting atop a 15 hand horse and looking down on people, it gives them a sense of empowerment. They have fun, meet new people and their circle of friends grows.”

One child in the program said, “My mom and dad cry because my smile is so big when they watch me ride”.

The RMA offers 20 sports in the Bow Valley year long, according to Kim Cosman, winter program coordinator.

“There shouldn’t be any limits to any participant,” Cosman said. “We try to take down any barriers that exist. It’s safety first, then we have fun.”

The growth of the RMA program has increased since its inception.

“In 2009, we facilitated 40 experiences,” Cosman said. “Last year, there were 2,000.”

RMA offers downhill and cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, golf and tennis, to name a few sports.

All of their instructors are certified and their volunteers are trained, she said.

To volunteer with RMA, please visit their website and click on the Get Involved link.

Source The Crag and Canyon

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