Kahnawake youth learn confidence, life lessons on horseback

Kahnawake youth learn confidence, life lessons on horseback

Laila Anistyn McComber, 11, looks forward to her time on a horse.

"I jump — I like that — and I like cantering a lot," she said in an interview in the arena at Levie Performance horses in Hemmingford, Que., where horses and their riders walked, cantered and reined in on the sand of the indoor facility.

McComber is one of 20 kids from Kahnawake taking part in a pilot project: the community's equine youth project, also called No Horsing Around. They get to ride horses and benefit from the therapeutic effect of the animals.

Tracey Snow, a member of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) and the co-ordinator of the project, said she has seen the effects horses can have on an individual's well-being.

She believes spending time with horses can build people's responsibility and courage.

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"We're hoping that any kids who would need any type of confidence building (take part)," she said. "Showing respect for animals, it leads to having respect for other people."

Snow said Kahnawake received government funding for recreation programs and, after a brainstorming session, decided to invest in the equine program.

It turned out to be a popular decision. When registration opened, all the slots filled within an hour. There is now a waiting list.

The funding pays for one lesson a week for the 20 children at one of three horseback riding facilities near Montreal.

Most of the participants, who are between the ages of eight and 18, are learning to ride and even compete on horseback. But some are taking part in the program to benefit from the healing horses can provide.

Chloë Ranaldi/CBC Montreal
Chloë Ranaldi/CBC Montreal

"Horses are being used currently as therapy for people suffering from anxiety, stress, PTSD, and trauma," Snow said.

"We just came out of COVID, a lot of children were affected by that. We thought that horses would be able to give confidence back to some of the kids and offer them something different."

Jennifer Levie, who coaches the young Kahnawake riders and oversees the riding programs at Levie performance horses, said one of the benefits of riding is the relationship that forms between the rider and the horse.

"You get the bond," Levie said. "You can tell anything to a horse, and he's not going to tell anybody."

"The horse knows when you're having a bad day, but you have to deal with it anyway. You have to pull through, to work through nervousness. Life isn't easy. Horseback riding teaches you to get through the tough spots."

Levie said she has been impressed by the care and attentiveness shown by the children.

Chloë Ranaldi/CBC Montreal
Chloë Ranaldi/CBC Montreal

"It's been a real joy working with them," she said. "They easily connect to the animal. They respect the animal."

Leah Horn, whose 11-year-old granddaughter, Waheshon Curotte, is one of the riders, said she sees the benefits of the program.

"It brings my granddaughter confidence and self-esteem and she really enjoys coming every week to horseback riding. She really enjoys it," she said.

"It gives her a sense of responsibility, to groom, to take care of the horse she trains with every week."