By Christine Ross, CanTRA Vice President and Ann Caine, Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre President

Every rider who comes along to a therapeutic riding program is considered as a unique individual. Therapeutic riding instructors are trained to make assessments of a rider's special needs and then design sessions that are both helpful and progressive. This is often with input from a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. 

Riders are matched with therapeutic riding horses and ponies who will suit their needs and the horse and rider form a natural bond. This special connection between horse and rider has a powerful impact on a rider's well-being. 

Therapeutic riders come from all age groups and have a very wide range of needs. Some medical conditions are contraindicated for riding, but there are many possibilities for groundwork around horses, such as grooming, which still provides the opportunity for animal/human bonding. For those able to take up therapeutic riding, the stories of their experiences and progression, together with the connection they feel with their horses, are heartwarming and fascinating.

The quotes in this article are from riders participating in programs at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre in Puslinch, Ontario, one of the many CanTRA-accredited centres across the country.

My muscles are tighter than [those of] the average person, especially my hips, so getting on the horse and having that stretch… it loosens everything in a way I can’t do for myself. I don’t know what it feels like to walk or run without my walker, it’s with me 24/7. When I ride I don’t need my walker or my braces. It’s the strangest sensation. Trotting is like an out-of-body experience. I can feel the horse moving underneath me… we are like one. They're sharing their movement with me. It’s the most freeing half hour of my week. - Brooke Fenton

Dear Horses, 

Thank you for all that you do for us. 

Thank you for allowing us to ride on you, it feels pretty awesome. You make us feel tall and proud. 

You are so friendly to be around. You are smart and curious. It’s nice for people like me. 

When I groom you, make your food, and clean your stall, it gives me something to do for you in return. 

When you put your head down and let me pet you, when you breathe warm air on me, I feel loved inside. 

Sunrise horses, thank you for all the support you give us, and the way you make us feel.

You’re pretty special. - Haley Veit

Sunrise is my second home and a place where I feel like I truly belong. The horses and the staff make it such a welcoming and healing place to be. They make it a safe and comfortable place to be. Being around and interacting with the horses really makes me feel so much better. No matter which horse I interact with for riding or grooming, they each have a unique way to bring to the surface the confident and happier Matt. When I’m at Sunrise around the horses, the anxiety and stress of that day or week is all gone for at least the time that I’m with the horse. I love that the horses don’t judge me, and I don’t have to look a certain way to gain their trust, love, and acceptance. They choose to love me for who I am, and that has meant so much to me personally. Interacting with the horses has helped me achieve better self-confidence and self-esteem, and I realize that I matter, not only to the horses but also to those who truly love and care about me. - Matt Young


Photo: Left - Haley Veit at four years old starting out on her riding journey; Right - Haley Veit at 22 years old and still riding. Credit: Sydney Holmes