Therapeutic riding program in Fredericton at risk without more volunteer support

·2 min read
Maya Hickey, above, has been riding for almost her entire life. Her father says spending time with horses is the highlight of her week. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)
Maya Hickey, above, has been riding for almost her entire life. Her father says spending time with horses is the highlight of her week. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)

For Christie Alders, it's the best feeling in the world.

For the horse lead at the Fredericton Therapeutic Riding Association, going out to the barn and seeing kids smile brings her joy.

"Everything melts away," Alders said.

The non-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities needs more volunteers, like Alders. Without them, the entire program is at risk of shutting down.

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

The association has been around since 1980. Some riders, like Maya Hickey, have been riding for almost their whole lives.

She started riding when she was four. She is now 20.

Her father, Mark Hickey, said Maya had two things to say when he asked what riding means to her. First, it brings her joy. Second, it gives her courage.

"I think when we watch Maya ride, those two things are very evident," he said.

Riding is the highlight of her week, Hickey said, and she's disappointed when it's cancelled due to a lack of volunteers.

The physical activity hasn't just built her core strength, but also created a sense of belonging. She knows the other riders, the horses, the walkers.

Another rider, Emilie Akerley, said she feels a "special bond" with her horse, Gizmo. She's been riding since she was five, and says she really enjoys it.

"I've been getting better at keeping my balance on the horse," she said.

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

The last two years were a strain on the program, according to president Meghan Gamble.

One rider needs three volunteers — a horse lead like Alders, who keeps the horse calm and happy, and two people who walk on either side of the horse to make sure the rider stays safe.

The pandemic limited opportunities for the program to attract and train more volunteers, who need to have the stamina to walk for up to three hours at a time once per week.

In the past, the program was able to run through eight-week cycles. That's down to five weeks now, and Gamble said the shorter time period restricts the development of the riders.

There are about nine riders right now. Since some are more advanced than others and are fine with fewer than three volunteers, Gamble said having even 20 steady volunteers would allow the program to grow.

"Without our volunteers, we really have no ability to actually open our doors and run our programs," Gamble said.

The next volunteer session is taking place Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.