With the exception of Mr. Ed, you would be hard pressed to think of a horse as a psychologist. And yet horses have been ‘prescribed’ as therapy since the ancient Greeks used them for those people who had incurable illnesses.
Today as many as 1 in 50 children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (or ASD), a wide range of disorders, many related with the ability to communicate. While confounding to teachers and even parents, ASD children, remarkably, respond well to horses!
Now this may sound like an odd way to start an article for a tourism website, but over the last few weeks I have been lucky enough to see horse therapy in action, in one of the few therapeutic riding centres in Southwestern Ontario – right in our own backyard!
Four years ago Patricia Kell began building Coyote Ridge Riding Centre on an acreage near McIntosh, offering Therapeutic Riding as well as English and Western Horsemanship. Coyote Ridge Riding Centre conducts riding lessons, boarding, training horses and summer camps. Coyote Ridge also offers Therapeutic Riding under its Wings of Pegasus program and personal empowerment with a private one on one mandate.
Unlike other therapeutic riding centres, Coyote Ridge believes the children need to learn all about their horses as well as how to ride. This includes grooming, tacking, walking, riding and un-tacking – all to build bonds between horse and rider! And it works, the horses turning in the pasture and lifting ears and tail high at the sight of a small child getting out of a car.
For my son, his first trip to Coyote Ridge meant hanging back and keeping as far away from the horse as possible. But within a few minutes he was working with Pat, gently brushing ‘Berkeley’ before he helped ‘saddle up’. Now, a few short lessons later he is proudly trotting around the ring aboard ‘Ted E. Bear’, sometimes with arms spread wide and an even wider grin.
Last Tuesday evening Pat and and her partner Jim were gracious to take time out of their busy schedule to host a tour by the South Bruce Tourism Committee. While Pat finished off her evening chores, Jim explained how the centre works including the new covered paddock that should begin construction shortly and a new cart they are designing for their miniature horses to allow children with Cerebral Palsy to enjoy therapeutic riding even if they have difficulties with saddles.
Following Jim, Pat explained her background and certifications as well as how the Wings of Pegasus program runs. At present she works with about 20 children, usually for an hour per week, always at the child’s pace to ensure maximum enjoyment of the experience. Pat is also actively training an assistant to allow her to expand the program and reach more children in the community. And there are always volunteer opportunities available if you are interested in learning ‘hands on’ about Therapeutic Riding!
Today was my son’s fifth ‘lesson’ at Coyote Ridge. Watching him ride I was amazed how far he has come in just a few weeks, talking Ted E. through his paces as they walked, trotted, walked and trotted FASTER (much to the chagrin of Jim who was assisting even though he is recovering from a cracked rib!), and then walking the horse from the paddock back to the stalls with Pat. This from a child who never ever wanted to pet our family dog! And talking a mile a minute in complete sentences – another first!
Coyote Ridge Riding Centre is located at 359 Concession 2 West (Carrick). For more information Patricia Kell can be contacted at 519-367-2102 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Currently their website is under construction but you can follow Coyote Ridge online on Facebook at fb.com/Coyote-Ridge-Riding-Centre
* * *
(editors note: Last week my ‘computer crazy’ son came home from Coyote Ridge and began building a horse barn in Minecraft – I think we have a winner here! – ml)