By Anne Caine, Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre Board President and Volunteer Fundraiser

“HAPPY HORSES” Fundraising Campaign Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

By Ann Caine, Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre Board President and Volunteer Fundraiser 

Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre of Puslinch, Ontario is a registered charity and a member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA). 

Since 1982, Sunrise has provided many community programs including therapeutic riding, inclusive summer day camps, an introduction to horses and the farm for very young children, Life Skills programs for young adults, and other Equine Assisted services. In addition, there is a residential therapeutic riding instructor training opportunity. 

When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, our first thought was how we would manage to maintain and care for our team of 21 horses, who are the backbone of our therapeutic riding and other related programs. Hundreds of children and adults with special needs come to the farm every week throughout the year. This is the highlight of their week, and the grooming and riding programs motivate them to reach their full potential.

Suddenly this was on hold — indefinitely.

This has been hard for all of us to process, but for children and adults with diagnosed special needs, this has had a profound impact on their emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Our program participants, for whom the horses have become a huge part of their lives, also lost all their other therapies, both physical and counselling, during lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. But not connecting with their therapy horse became the most challenging.

As a charity we rely on the support of individual and corporate donors, but most of all we rely on our own efforts through “in person” fundraising events — also cancelled.

At a time when food insecurity and the need for affordable housing was paramount, we wrestled with how the community would respond to an appeal to help maintain our invaluable team of horses. However, these animals are our responsibility and, with no foreseeable cash flow, the “HAPPY HORSES” campaign was launched.

Together with the media release, we provided the infographic shown with this article to illustrate the level of care and training needed to ensure the well-being of our horses, and how crucial they are to so many young people.

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Horsecare Infographic

We spread the word through every level of the media. Our local print and television media took up the story and donations began to arrive.

In the first week we raised an amazing $10,000. By mid-May the total was just short of $58,000!

The generosity of our local communities was overwhelming. This also highlighted once more how valuable every donation is, however small, when the need is great.

The majority of people cannot manage to sponsor or co-sponsor a therapy horse for the year, but so many more are able and willing to be part of a “crowd funding” initiative of this kind. And so, another valuable lesson was learned during the constraints of this pandemic.

CanTRA member programs coast to coast have been struggling for survival since Spring 2020. Some of these programs have had to close their doors, which is a huge loss to their local communities.

We all love and value our horses, and the magic and empowerment they bring to the lives of children and adults with special needs is immeasurable.

Despite our many Sunrise programs being shut down, we continue to ensure that the physical and mental needs of our horses are met, and ongoing exercise and training continue, so we are ready for the eventual return of our many participants.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Mariait

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