June 22nd, 2024

Initiative bringing equine therapy to downtown’s vulnerable


By Dale Woodard on September 4, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard - Darlene Fitz-Gerald with Frosty, Jason Shriner, director at the Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association and Horse In The Window's Natalie Johnson, along with Moonshine, arrive at Galt Gardens Friday morning as part of a pilot project to provide equine therapy to the city's vulnerable.

Two groups have joined forces on a pilot project to provide a little healing through horses.
The Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association and Alberta Health Services are offering up equine therapy for Lethbridge’s vulnerable population and on Friday morning took a little bit of that horsepower to the Galt Gardens.
“We believe in equine therapy and that is at our core value at LTRA, providing access to the vulnerable sector, handicapped and disabled folks,” said Jason Shriner, director at the Lethbridge Therapeutic Riding Association. “It’s a tremendous opportunity downtown. We all know we’re struggling downtown with our vulnerable sector and we thought what better way to serve than to come to Galt Gardens to bring our love, our horses and our compassion and the idea and philosophy of equine therapy to the streets.”
On Friday morning Moonshine, an 11-year-old Morgan/Arab cross and Frosty, a quarter-horse, were onhand and it didn’t take long for some interested park-goers to walk up and for a friendly pat on the horses, who are specifically trained to be around crowds and not get potentially spooked.
“People will come up, pet the horses, look at the horses and be around the horses. Just the therapeutic benefit of being around these beautiful animals had been proven scientifically valid,” said Shriner. “Their vibe and calmness rubs off onto us. They sense our anxiety and how we’re feeling and they often, with a subtle move of the head or a gentle nudge has a powerful impact. Then just touching the horse and feeling this massive being, that tactile experience is tremendous. It feels affectionate.”
Brandy Tonin, recreation therapist for Alberta Health Services Addiction and Mental Health, said AHS runs an equine wellness group on Friday mornings for its clients.
“They have to be referred. We do assessments and have them come out and do a bunch of pre-imposed wellness scales to see who they’re doing and how the group is affected or is benefitting them. We thought let’s bring the horses here because we’ve seen tremendous results with those groups.”
Tonin noted the calming presence of the horses
“When the horses are brought into the arena their heads up are and they’re alert and looking around,” she said. “The clients come in and they’re a little bit nervous and anxious and they’re looking around. But we noticed by the end the horses’ heads are low, which means they’re very relaxed and the clients relax. So they’re very calm. They rate themselves and they tell us afterwards. I think there’s a level of regulation that happens with the horses. They can calm us down to a level that maybe other humans can’t or even we can’t ourselves. It’s very exciting to see that.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the LTRA began a program called Horses In The Window.
“We would bring our horses to senior centres, to detox centres and to various facilities where people couldn’t go out,” said Shriner. “So they’d look out the window and we’d just walk to the horses. So it was really powerful. We received some community support to fund that program and it was a massive success. So moving forward, we’re looking at new opportunities to do outreach on this level.”
Many people have memories with horses and have fond memories or childhood or in their wellness, said Shriner.
“People who are now aged and have no mobility, seeing a horse just brightens their day. It brings them to a good place. As the lockdowns eased it grew where some who had mobility would come out and pet the horses and just be surrounded by the sight smell.”

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