Friday, April 25, 2014

Rainbow Riders

I was asked recently to write a letter in support of Rainbow Riders and their Therapeutic Riding program. I was more than happy to do so, as we have had a wonderful experience with the program, and Brennen has benefited greatly from his involvement with the horses. I will take this opportunity to expand on my letter and share a little bit of how their riding program has impacted our family.

The mission of Rainbow Riders is "to offer year-round therapeutic horseback riding programs for children and youth with special physical, cognitive and emotional needs which are adapted to suit the unique needs of the participants."

My son, Brennen began participating in the Therapeutic Riding program at Rainbow Riders when he was just three years old. Brennen has a diagnosis of spastic tetraparetic cerebral palsy, and is dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. "Through therapeutic riding, horses help physically and mentally challenged children achieve things that may seem impossible."

Having a physical disability can put limits on what an individual is able to do, but a disability does not have to limit a person from riding horses. In fact, experiencing the motion of a horse can be very therapeutic. For individuals with impaired mobility, horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves their bodies in a manner similar to a human walking gait. Riders experience increased balance, coordination, greater strength and muscle control, and increased range of motion. The benefits are endless. A therapeutic riding program can contribute positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with disabilities.

For riders, like Brennen, who cannot walk, the horse is their feet. There is a strong sense of freedom and achievement that comes along with sitting upright on a horse and "walking". Just look at that face!!

Brennen has made measurable gains since he started with Rainbow Riders, and we attribute a lot of that to the quality of the program they offer. On warm sunny days, the horses often ride on a trail through the area surrounding the barn, taking in the beauty of the natural environment. Brennen is assisted by two side walkers who walk alongside the horse and help to hold him in a comfortable, supported position. There is also an experienced horse leader who guides the horse from the front.

While the many benefits to Brennen are obvious, there have been additional benefits to our family as a whole. Taking Brennen to his riding sessions is something that we look forward to each week. It is an activity that he thoroughly enjoys and we take so much delight in that. When you have a child with a disability, who will never walk, run, or play sports like hockey or soccer, it is nice to have him involved in a physical activity that is adapted to his level of ability.

Over the years, Brennen's accomplishments have been acknowledged with awards such as the "Free Spirit Award" in 2008, and the "Most Improved Rider Award" in 2010. Last year, Brennen underwent a medical procedure that made him unable to take part in the riding program. He had surgery on his hip, and was confined to a body cast for seven weeks. Though he was unable to ride, and unable to attend the awards show and dinner, we received a phone call on the night of the banquet telling us that Brennen was being honoured with the "Cup of Courage" - an award given to a rider who has shown great strength in overcoming obstacles or challenges. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to know that they were thinking of Brennen and our family at that time, and were recognizing all that we had been through. It had been a very difficult Summer, and the concern and thoughtfulness shown to us by the wonderful volunteers at Rainbow Riders was extremely uplifting.  

The Therapeutic Riding program is run by volunteers. They are the lifeline of the organization. Participants succeed because of the time, energy and dedication shown by such an inspiring group of individuals. Brennen has created special bonds with some of his side walkers. He trusts them to keep him safe and we know that they are always looking out for him. They take pride in his accomplishments, just as we do, and they are there to help him progress.

I am truly grateful for the experiences we have had with Rainbow Riders. They offer a much-needed program that allows individuals with special needs to experience the rewarding benefits of horseback riding.

“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom” -Helen Thompson 

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