When Grace Dean enrolled her five-year-old son Jonathan in the Errington Therapeutic Riding Association he couldn't walk, but that changed this year.
"Walking is huge for us because he's about 60 pounds, I can't carry him anymore," she said.
Jonathan was born with Charge Syndrome, a complex sensory deprivation disorder. He's also legally blind and deaf, he has a tracheostomy, which means he's tube fed, and he has development delays. Jonathan was nervous when he first started riding last year. He wouldn't touch the horse and he didn't want to put the helmet on, Dean said.
"It takes some getting used to but now when he sees the helmet there's a smile, he knows exactly what he's doing...he's excited."
Dean said the riding has helped with Jonathan's balance, his stability and his confidence, and once he was into his second 11-week session, he began to walk. He now also pets the horse and touches his mane.
The Errington Therapeutic Riding Association (ETRA) opened its doors in 1989 in Errington. The association moved operations to Arbutus Meadows in Nanoose Bay and two years ago it moved to Pyramid Stables in Lantzville. The association requires about $50,000 a year to fund two 11-week training sessions, where 40 physically and mentally disabled children, youth and adults get to ride the horses with assistance. The Spring Session, which wrapped up in June, had around 25 per cent of its clients from the Parksville Qualicum Beach area. Jonathan lives in South Nanaimo with his mom and sister. During each session there are five one-hour lessons with a maximum of four clients per lesson. About 50 volunteers are required to run a session.
President of the association, Barry Galenzoski, said funding can be a struggle. The association charges a fee to the client for the program, about $16 a ride, and the remaining $37,000 is raised through fundraising and by donors.
The Coast Capital Savings' Vancouver Island Young Leaders Community Council announced a $5,000 donation to ETRA last month.
Dean, who is a single mother and works full time, said she very grateful to donors like Coast Capital Savings.
"I'm very grateful for the program and the donations are incredibly appreciated because it makes it possible for [Jonathan] to be able to go."
Galenzoski said since he's been volunteering with the association, nearly five years, there has always been a waiting list for the program. In fact they've had to cut the list off at 20 people. Most of the clients are repeat, he said, and as long as they are developing in some positive manner, they continue with the program. He was involved with a therapeutic riding association in Winnipeg before he moved to Vancouver Island. He said he's seen the programs make a huge difference in people's lives, and that's one of the main reasons he got involved.
"You could just see the benefit for the client doing the riding, when you get involved in this it's so heart warming to see what goes on there," he said. Galenzoski said he's seen children go from non-verbal to verbal, among many other benefits. "It just shocks the parents sometimes," he said.
Coast Capital Savings Credit Union has branches around Vancouver Island as well as Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. In 2012 it launched three youth-led councils to address and support key issues for youth in these regions. Each council is comprised of four emerging leaders 30 years and under, along with four Coast Capital employees.
For more on Coast Capital Savings visit www.coastcapitalsavings.com. For more on the Errington Therapeutic Riding Association visit www.etra.ca.