PARD Therapeutic Riding is a Peterborough area charitable organization. It is operated solely by volunteers and a certified instructor supervises each riding session. The program is open to individuals of all ages and is beneficial to riders with many different disabilities, including: cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, stroke, accidental injury, and visual & hearing challenges.
Using the abilities of the rider, PARD provides individualized riding instruction. The "three-dimensional" motion of a walking horse mimics human walking and stimulates the rider, helping to enhance balance, posture, mobility, co-ordination and strength. By adding other exercises or movement, we can help rehabilitate specific parts of the rider's body.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS PROGRAM INCLUDING HOW TO HELP CLICK HERE. MORE FINANCIAL AND VOLUNTEER SUPPORT MEANS HELPING MORE INDIVIDUALS WHO TRULY NEED A PROGRAM LIKE THIS IN THEIR LIVES. OUR GOAL IS TO BE ABLE TO OFFER THESE LESSONS TO EVERYONE WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THEM RATHER THAN HAVING TO PLACE SO MANY ON OUR WAITING LIST UNTIL WE CAN ACCOMODATE THEM. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO HELP IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF MANY LIVES...JUST CALL AND FIND OUT HOW!
In the ring, no one is judged. It's just you and the horse. That's it.
Sharky, a 20-year-old draft/quarterhorse cross, doesn't mind one bit if Aimee Ross-Carter has Asperger Syndrome. And Bail, a 16-year-old quarterhorse, doesn't judge Emilie Raaymakers because of her epilepsy.
It's a symbiotic relationship between horse and rider. Each gets back as much as the other gives.
It's a perfect fall morning at the Stillbrook Riding Stables near Keene. It's the type of morning you wish would linger long into the afternoon. The sun is warm and only a few thin, wispy clouds are painted across the bright blue sky.
In the ring, Aimee and Emilie are warming up their horses for their hour-long lesson with instructor Kathy Carruthers.
"Push those heels down, Em," shouts Ms Carruthers, standing in the middle of the ring.
"There we go."
Both teenagers are part of the PARD therapeutic riding program in Peterborough. PARD is a registered charity, run solely by volunteers, that is geared towards riders' with disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, stroke, and visual and hearing challenges. It's also of benefit to those with an intellectual disability.
Ms Carruthers, a certified instructor with the Canadian Therapeutic Association, says they have 27 riders in the program this season; a season that typically runs from May through October. PARD rents the ring twice a week from Stillbrook.
Aimee, a Grade 10 student at Norwood District Secondary School, has been riding with PARD since she was eight years old. Aimee's mother, Gwen Carter, says her daughter fell in love with riding right away.
"This is her safe haven; this is her area of safety," explains Ms Carter.
"She is familiar here and she is accepted here. She just doesn't have that many opportunities to shine. I think it gives her something that she can take pride in and feel a sense of accomplishment."
Ms Carter says prior to starting the program, Aimee hardly ever sat up straight. Now, from years of riding Sharkey, her posture is near perfect. Aboard the sturdy, white horse, she is confident and in control. She is relaxed around the animals.
"No one tells you that you can't do it because you are different," says Aimee.
The riders in the program are only charged approximately $10 a lesson. Other stables would normally charge around $40. Along with an hour lesson each week, riders are also responsible for helping take care of their horse, which includes grooming and feeding.
Emilie says she likes "everything" about the PARD program. Now 13 years old and attending Kenner Collegiate, Emilie has been riding with PARD for nearly five years.
Jane Raaymakers, Emilie's mother, says her daughter began having seizures when she was about six years old. Ms Raaymakers says a typical riding program will not insure Emilie because of her seizures, which means without PARD, there would be few, if any, outlets for Emilie to learn to ride.
"She looks forward to coming out...the independence is the biggest thing," says Mrs. Raaymakers.
Emilie has made many friends through the program. She also volunteers with the PARD program when she is not riding.
"It's an amazing program...it has just meant the world to Emilie," says Ms Raaymakers.
Ms Carruthers says each of the riders have their own goals and its up to her and the other volunteers to listen to their students. Both Aimee and Emilie have aspirations of learning to jump and later compete in competitions held in conjunction with the Ontario Therapeutic Riding Association and the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.
She says the horses in the program are very special and are matched carefully to each rider. Just like people, horses have their own unique personality.
"I look at an awful lot of horses," says Ms Carruthers.
"Some of them just don't have it. Our horses have to have so much patience."
She says Aimee and Sharkey "clicked instantly."
Ms Carruthers says the benefits of therapeutic riding include improved balance and co-ordination, the strengthening of muscles, increased confidence and self-esteem, and improved attention span.
"Some of them make very, very tiny strides. Others make huge strides," she says.
She remembers one little guy in a wheelchair who never spoke.
"He's talking, he's walking, he's doing all kinds of stuff," she says.
Ms Carruthers says some of the riders simply have no fear.
"It's just incredible," she says.
Rachel Quilty, 10, was born with an underdeveloped left arm. She now wears a prosthetic arm that lets her enjoy most activities, including horseback riding.
"I love horses," says Rachel.
"Their size...how they are big but friendly. Their noses are always velvety-soft."
Like Aimee and Emilie, Rachel's goal is also to jump.
Riding a horse with one arm doesn't make Rachel feel different. Instead, she says it makes her feel special because she doesn't know anyone else that can do that.
"When I ride the horse, I feel excited," she adds.
Tammy, Rachel's mother, says words can't express what the PARD program means to the entire Quilty family.
The PARD program currently has a long waiting list and Ms Carruthers says they are always looking for volunteers.
"It's a wonderful program" says volunteer Chantal Dufour.
"It just offers so much to the riders. You see in their faces how much they look forward to it and anticipate coming out every week.
Since the program receives no government funding, it needs financial assistance. While PARD wraps up at the end of October, the horses still need to be fed, stabled and groomed all year round.
While Ms Carruthers can't say enough about the students, the parents can't say enough about Kathy.
When Ms Quilty is at the ring watching Rachel ride, she feels sheer "joy" but also gratitude for Ms Carruthers and the other volunteers who make the PARD program happen.
"Kathy is amazing...she is so amazing," adds Ms Carter.
"She is like the backbone of the program," adds Ms Raaymakers.