For Instructions from a three year old philanthropist:
Enquire at Sunnybrook or Horse Palace for dates and more details.
The Exhibition Therapeutic Riding Academy (ExTRA) is a component of The Riding Academy at The Horse Palace. ExTRA teaches horseback riding as a form of therapy to children and adults with cognitive and/or physical impairment. We run a small, quality program with one-on-one attention to our riders. Safety is our primary concern; fun and learning run a very close second.
The clients we work with can have either physical or cognitive impairments or, as is often the case, a combination of the two. The list of disabilities includes, but is not limited to: cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, strokes, arthritis, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, blindness, down syndrome, autism, hearing impairment, learning disabilities and developmental delay. Before anyone with a disability can take up riding they must first have written permission from a medical doctor.
Studies have shown that the three-dimensional movement created through a horse’s back while it is walking exactly mimics the movement of a person’s hips when walking. This movement consists of a forward and backward element, a side-to-side element and, finally, a rotational element. Sometimes, the only time individuals born with certain physical disabilities will ever feel this movement, that we all take for granted, is when they ride a correctly moving horse.
The physical benefits of therapeutic riding include: increased muscle strength, normalization of muscle tone, improved balance, increased range of motion in the joints and improved hand-eye coordination. The psycho-educational benefits include: increased attention span, improved self-esteem and increased confidence.
ExTRA relies on volunteers to run our classes. Our volunteers are responsible for a number of jobs, which include: grooming and tacking up horses; leading horses in class or working one on one with the riders as an extension of the instructor; helping to set up the arena for obstacle courses and clearing the arena at the end of the day; and finally, untacking horses and putting them away when we are done.
In recent years we have all heard many stories of the challenges men and women of the Canadian Forces face on the road back from grievous mental or physical injuries incurred while in service to country. It was while attending the True Patriot Love fundraising gala in 2011 that Walter and Jacquelyn Shanly, co-owners of Sunnybrook Stables and the Riding Academy at the Horse Palace, that the idea of helping our soldiers heal through therapeutic riding was put forward.
Mr. Shanly, who has for many years given back through riding programs for disadvantaged or disabled youth, was quick to step up and Saddle Up Soldier was born. The initial program launched in partnership with the Metropolitan Toronto Mounted Unit and took place the following year. Since then there have been five Saddle Up Soldier programs, each has had a profoundly positive impact on those attending. All participants, including police officers, volunteer their time for five full days. But does such an intense therapeutic effort actually have benefits? Sonya, a certified therapeutic riding instructor, who heads up the program, is quick to answer:
“We see it all the time, people who come in with no light in their eyes, not willing to talk or share of themselves. As the program progresses, their bodies strengthen and become more coordinated. They gain self-confidence. By the end of the program, they are hugging the horses, hugging the volunteers, and are able to express joy at being here and being part of the program. It’s just wonderful to see,” says Sonya.
The Shanly’s work to do everything possible to welcome participants to Toronto through events like harbour cruises with the Toronto Police Marine Unit, a night out at Medieval Times, CN Tower Restaurant, and social events held in their home. The appreciation felt by soldiers was expressed simply and sincerely by a recent participant:
“Soldiers need to know that there are people out there who care about what happens to us, who want to help us and want to give back. That goes a long, long way. I can’t stress enough how important these programs are to all of us. It means the world to us.”