Getting to know horses on the Island
Horses have a lot to teach us.
When people think of horses, horseback riding is the sole activity which comes to mind. It’s often limited to the pony rides at the local fair, riding lessons or a trail ride on vacation. Many don’t realize horse experiences come in many forms and we host a diversity right here on the Island.
There are activities that need zero horse experience, can be in or out of the saddle, hands-on or not, one-on-one or in a group, some are free, and many acknowledge horses as therapy animals. Many programs are inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed. Did you know horses can read human emotions?
Riding is a small part of horsemanship but not the whole story. The full scope includes caring for horses, handling them safely, training, learning about their instincts, behaviour and communication. Horsemanship is relevant to all disciplines (for example, English or Western) and important for beginners to advanced and age doesn’t matter.
Here are a few unique horse experiences worth looking into:
What: Tam and Jason Merkens celebrate the human and horse connection at their horse rescue farm. With a team of volunteers, a herd of eight, and a focus beyond riding, they see the possibilities that can develop from transformative relationships. “Our programs foster an environment of learning by utilizing horses as teachers, mentors and healers.”
Programs: They offer Equine-Assisted Learning and equine-assisted wellness sessions. Kids and youth can also enjoy Horse Powered reading (horses are the facilitators!) and summer leadership camps. Humble Hooves also hosts private events—kid’s birthday parties or corporate events—and can customize a program for your group.
Where: Cobble Hill, BC
Learn more: humblehooves.ca
Heart Lake Farm (HLF)
What: Founders/Directors Jess and Scott Lake created a home to equine-assisted services showcasing learning with horses and therapy with horses. There is no riding, and you won’t miss a thing!
Where: Saanichton, BC
Programs: HLF offers Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) led by trained facilitators. It’s an experiential learning program teaching essential life skills including communication, teamwork and leadership through group activities with horses. It’s possible to take a multi-week series or a one-day workshop.
HLF also works with mental health professionals. Sessions may be one-on-one or in small groups. One example of a small group program at HLF is an Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Therapy (IFOT)-informed group, and the Life Review program created at the UBC Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma (adapted to include horse work). Partnership examples include the Victoria Brain Injury Society (VBIS), WSÁNEC First Nations and Camosun College. Contact HLF if you represent a school, social service, or charitable organization interested providing unique learning experiences with horses. Group programs are funded and free.
Learn more: heartlakefarm.ca
Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA)
What: Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association is a registered non-profit organization offering a range of therapeutic riding and equine-based wellness programs. CTRA serves as a hub of inclusion and catalyst for human potential, enriching the lives of countless individuals and supporting key social determinants of health in our community.
Where: Duncan, BC
Programs: They offer therapeutic riding which provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Participants learn how to ride a horse and often have goals to develop mobility, balance, muscle tone and core strength. Other side effects include improving confidence, independence and social skills. It can be for fun or, some work towards competition in para-dressage. They also teach inclusive vaulting (aka gymnastics on horseback) and horsemanship.
CTRA is powered by volunteers. Want to get your hands dirty in the barn and soak up good horse energy? They need folks to help groom horses and be a “side-walker.” Training is provided. Not a horsey person but want to support their work? Check out the skills needed for their Board of Directors.
Therapeutic Riding uses horses to help people with various disabilities. Participants work with horses to achieve physical and mental health, and cognitive, behavioural, social and communication goals.
Learn more: ctra.ca
Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association (VTRA)
What: Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association is a registered charity with seven staff, 12 horses and over 250 volunteers. VTRA recognizes horseback riding as a therapeutic aid and serves more than 200 kids and adults with a diversity of equine-assisted activities. Their mission is to build individual capacity through human and horse teamwork.
Programs: VTRA teaches Adaptive or Therapeutic riding and Adaptive Driving programs. Driving means using a horse-drawn cart. They also host summer camps for kids and youth six to 20 years of age, offer affordable workshops (e.g. grooming, horse behaviour, horse body language and more) and have volunteer opportunities.
Where: Saanichton, BC
Learn more: vtra.ca