It’s been a long, beautiful ride, but it’s coming to an end.
After 34 years of community service, the Chilliwack branch of the Pacific Riding for the Developing Abilities is saying goodbye. For Daphne Clegg, program coordinator for the much-loved service, it’s going to be a bittersweet farewell. Clegg, along with her team of fellow volunteers, has put her heart and soul into keeping the operation up and running, and affordable for families.
But, she says, you can only do so much for so long. And so, when the program wraps for the summer break as it normally does, it will be wrapping up for good.
On a recent riding day, Clegg and several other volunteers carried out their work while taking the time to explain the benefits of therapy riding. They also expressed their thanks for their dedicated volunteer base.
The PRDA was established in the Vancouver area in 1973 to provide therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. Ten years later, the Chilliwack branch opened and local riders could begin what’s known as equine therapy.
Today, children arrive at the stables once a week for their half-hour lessons, carried out in small groups in an indoor riding ring. They are greeted inside a waiting room by their volunteer riding instructors, where they say goodbye to their parents and head out to see their horse. Inside the waiting area, parents can watch through a window as the class carries on.
The kids, and their horses, are led through games, different speeds of walking and trotting, and even get to do a few laps outside if the weather cooperates and moods allow.
The volunteers run, walk, guide, hold and help the young riders as needed, but those riders who are able are encouraged to do as much of the work as possible. Riding increases mobility, stability and balance of riders, and can increase muscle strength in the core. It also moves the hips in a way that mimics walking, and the results in helping children with disabilities over the years is noticeable, says Clegg.
Charlotte Perry has been bringing her son, Carter, to the PRDA for four years. He has cerebral palsy, and gets around with the assistance of a walker. At age 10 now, his mom says riding has helped with his core strength.
“He’s doing really well,” she says, watching him ride in the ring with the help of volunteers. “He’s walking way better, and he’s starting to talk.”
Even though he’s considered highly impaired, he can now command his horse to “walk on.” It’s a huge step for Carter, and proof that the therapy is working.
Perry’s not sure what activity could come close to filling the gap for Carter when the PRDA closes in the summer. They already make the drive from Hope once a week for the half hour lesson, and driving further into Langley isn’t feasible.
“I’m sad they’re closing but I understand,” she says. “I’m sure it was a hard decision to call it quits.”
It was, says Clegg. But there is hope yet. She’s been hoping someone would take the reins, so to speak. In the meantime, years of running the PRDA meant training people along the way. And there are now several riding instructors trained with the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association. They’ll be offering ‘fee-for-service’ therapeutic riding lessons, and at least a few of the children who use the PRDA will qualify for some government funding.
Children with autism, for example, are covered for riding lessons. But others, including those who are functioning well with their disabilities, may not be eligible. And that’s a shame, says volunteer Pat Fuller, because those are the children who sometimes benefit the most.
Horseback riding provides much more than just physical therapy. Kids often find a connection with the horses that lifts their spirits, and brings positivity and success into their life. There is nobody there to judge them or tease them, and they are in full control of the situation.
The success of the program comes down to the dedication of the volunteers, Clegg says, along with the solid support of local service clubs such as the Sardis Kiwanis Club and the Atchelitz Women’s Institute.
“Our volunteers help as much as they needed to to get the job done,” she says. “It’s been a pleasure to serve the community for 34 years. Our lives have been enriched by hundreds of children with disabilities and their families that we have come know through the program.”
“We have had the privilege of working with many, many amazing volunteers who are our backbone. From high school and college students to retired adults, hundreds of caring people have given their time and enthusiasm to PRDA,” she adds. “It is with mixed feelings that we are retiring from the program. Over the years we have facilitated the training for a number of instructors through the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.”
The hope is those instructors will continue to offer services, in the same location on Chilliwack Central Road.