North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association (NOTRA) volunteer Karen Tanchak calls horses “God’s magnificent creatures,” not just for what they have meant in her life but for how she sees them help change the lives of children and adults with disabilities.
“We have riders from three to 83. Riding helps physically with muscle development and motor skills and emotionally through improving communication skills and self-confidence,” she said.
Tanchak, her husband, Al, and other NOTRA volunteers work with participants in group and individual lessons.
Aleese Watkins, 14, is in her first year of riding with NOTRA after learning to ride with friends who have horses. She looks forward to coming to her lessons and enjoys everything about the program, including grooming the horses, putting the tack on them, and, of course, the riding.
“This is a good horse,” she said, as she got Thunder, the Tennessee walker she usually rides, ready for a session. While Watkins can do most of the preparation herself, the program is adapted for individual needs and volunteers saddle up the horses for those who can’t do it for themselves.
NOTRA, a non-profit society, was started in 1984 by Dr. Art Sovereign and his wife, Agnes, with longtime Vernon District Riding Club member June Osborn. The program moved to O’Keefe Ranch in 1993. Members of the society do fundraising so they are able to offer the therapeutic riding lessons at minimal cost. There are two sessions each year, spring and fall, for about 80 riders each time. The program presently has 14 horses, some donated, which have been trained for therapeutic sessions.
Group sessions include exercises in the ring, riding skills practice, games and a trail ride.
Watkins and Tanchak finish their time in the ring and head out for a trail ride, one of Watkins’ favourite parts of the program.
“I like being on top of a horse. It makes me happy,” she said.
Dani Goldenthal has been program director for 14 years.
“I had horses as a kid and worked with Special Olympics as a teen. I see so many benefits to riding. It loosens up tight muscles and increases core strength. It can be very calming,” she said. “Riding improves self-esteem and speech development in giving commands to the horses, as well as giving a sense of control to people who may not have much control or freedom in their lives.
“I like to see the seniors who come here. They might have had horses and love to be with them again. I love riding and I love to see that gift given to someone else — it’s wonderful to see the joy in their faces.”
There is always a need for volunteers with the program. The minimum age is 14 and people don’t need to have a background with horses as they can do things like walking beside the horses with the riders. Training is provided.
The NOTRA 21st Annual Poker Ride-A-Thon takes place June 24 starting at Coldstream Ranch and continuing through Kal Lake Park and Cosens Bay and Bear Valley back to the ranch by Deep Lake with a choice of a one-and-a-half hour or three-hour ride. A barbecue lunch and entertainment and a variety of prizes are provided.
For more information about the ride or to pre-register (can also register the day of the ride), contact 250-549-0105 or firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.notra.info.