PHOTOS: Vernon horse therapy program trots along

The North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association is operating its 2020 fall season for kids and adults with special needs at O’Keefe Ranch. Big plans are in the works for 2021. (NOTRA photo)
The North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association will enter its 37th year of providing horse therapy to children and adults with special needs in 2021. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Alycia Butler is the new program director for the North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
The North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association will enter its 37th year of providing horse therapy to children and adults with special needs in 2021. (NOTRA photo)
The North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association will enter its 37th year of providing horse therapy to children and adults with special needs in 2021. (NOTRA photo)

The smiles on the faces of horseback riders Raymond and Casey on an overcast morning at Historic O’Keefe Ranch weren’t just for the photographer (though Casey did chime in with a ‘cheese’ as he strode by).

The two grown men were loving their time on horses during a session with the North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association, an amazing therapy program that will enter its 37th year of operation in 2021.

And new North Okanagan Therapeutic Riding Association program director Alycia Butler has big plans for the post-COVID future.

The not-for-profit program for children and adults with special needs was started by a local doctor in 1984, who found horse therapy was really good for his patients and wanted to introduce it to the community so others could be healed by the four-legged animal.

“We offer therapeutic riding lessons where clients practice in the arena for 45 minutes, then go on different obstacle courses and they progress,” said Butler from in front of the practice ring at the ranch, the association’s home base. “Some are just starting to get comfortable with the horse, others have been with us year after year and they’re trotting and cantering all on their own in the arena.

“The session ends with a trail ride around O’Keefe.”

The program is for people with special needs aged six and up. The youngest riders on one of NOTRA’s five horses are two eight-year-olds. Another participant is 73.

The organization lost its spring session from mid-May to end-of-June due to COVID, but got the green light for a fall session that runs to Nov. 2.

“So far, things have been so great,” said the ever-smiling Butler, who plans for the future include workshops, camps and a return of an amateur rodeo at the ranch.

“For the spring session in 2021 – as long as COVID doesn’t cancel everything – I’d like to introduce a horsemanship program, not just for people with special needs, and introduce weekend kids or adults programs. Two different programs and we have an instructor for that. I’d like to do that in the summer as well, and do kids’ camps; one for kids with special needs, and one for kids in the communities. They’d be morning programs so the horses don’t get hot.”

Butler is also planning things like weekend workshops, horse massage therapy, a farrier class, a weekend groove school program for adults, as well as an amateur rodeo for adults and children, something the ranch used to host back in the 20th century.

The program could use another paid instructor, volunteers who could help with ranch chores Monday to Friday, evenings and weekends, and some fresh blood on the association’s board of directors.

“Our current members are amazing, some have been with the board for six-to-eight years and they’re supposed to be two-year terms,” said Butler. “We have five board members who are all beyond their terms and they’re happily staying on until we find some new members.”

No horse experience is necessary though people with accounting and legal backgrounds would be great. The commitment is two hours once a month on the third Wednesday of every month.

If you’re interested in becoming a board member, please email

For more information on the organization, check out The site includes a donation tab, which the organization can always use.

“It’s how we’re funded,” said Butler, adding NOTRA lost $30,000 in funding with the spring session being cancelled. “Borders kept our horses all winter, spring and summer. We have added hay costs, farrier and vet visits.”

Butler praised Creekside Animal Clinic for giving the organization a huge COVID discount.

READ MORE: NOTRA leads the way

READ MORE: Help heal with horses by supporting Vernon fundraiser

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