Youthdale Riding Program has been offering therapeutic riding for at-risk youth since 2001. The youth come from Youthdale Treatment Centres, where they are in residential treatment for a variety of issues. Located in the beautiful Hockley Valley, the program helps teach life skills, builds confidence, and through the interaction with the horses, helps the youth gain insight to cope with their own issues and challenges. It gives them hope.
Each session, which runs over a ten week period, is a collaborative effort between the horse, volunteer and facilitator. The program provides an opportunity for youth learn basic horsemanship skills while addressing issues of depression, anxiety, anger, ADHD, substance abuse, eating disorders and lack of self esteem, among many other issues they are dealing with.
Being with my horse, having him nuzzle me and seeing him happy, had made me in turn feel happy. I've felt more comfortable and now know that I can accomplish anything I want to. I just have to remember to not give up and not let my anxiety stop me.
Funding for this program comes from the generosity of individuals and corporate donors. Costs to individuals participating used to be supplemented by various Children's Aids and parents, but as this became more difficult, costs are now covered by our fundraising efforts. These funds maintain the horses and support the ongoing program costs. We have 6 dedicated horses we use in the program.
In 2014 and 2015, the RCMP retired 3 of their wonderful Musical Ride horses to our program. We are fortunate to have these amazing horses working with our kids in addition to our other 3 horses!
In November 2013, a chance meeting between Constable Terry Russel of the RCMP and Youthdale Riding Program volunteer Betsy Millar lead to an ongoing partnership between the two organizations. Betsy told Constable Terry about the program and the positive effect the horses had on all of the youth participating in the program. Betsy mentioned that one of the ongoing concerns with the program was finding suitable horses for the kids to ride as some of the horses in the program were due to retire. Constable Terry express a great interest in the program so Betsy promptly invited him to come and see the program in action and meet the kids, horses and volunteers.
A few weeks later Constable Terry came out and spent the evening quietly watching the kids and observing their behaviour around the horses. At the end of the evening he mentioned to Ellen that he could make no promises but he was going to try and get a retired RCMP Musical Ride horse for the program. For Ellen this was a dream come true as for years she had repeatedly told anyone that would listen that she would love to have a retired police horse for her program.
In March 2014, Ellen got a call from Constable Terry asking her if she would be interested in taking not one but two horses. He didn’t have to wait for the answer as it was of course a resounding “Yes!” The wonderful duo Matt and Kracker arrived at the farm the following week to a rock star welcome. The event was so special that it was featured in the RCMP Pony Express Magazine. Matt and Kracker were so successful in their new jobs that the following year Constable Terry was able to arrange to have the magnificent Rocamo donated to the program. Rocamo arrive to a hero’s welcome and all three horses quickly became the cornerstones of the program. Their gentle accepting nature is not only beneficial but influential to all those they come in contact with.
Constable Terry has become a mainstay of the program, coming out to cheer on the kids and teach them some musical ride moves. At the same time the kids get a chance to see the police from a totally different perspective than they have had before. In the past many of these kids viewed the police as a threat but in spending time with Constable Terry have made a bond with the person behind the badge. The volunteers have been told many times by the kids that they think it is “cool” that the police have just given horses for them to use. A change in thinking indeed! Our volunteers have also had a chance to learn some musical ride moves, as last November Constable Terry spent 8 weeks teaching our group to do the Youthdale version of “The Ride”. The bond with the RCMP and in particular Constable Terry Russel is special, and we are all lucky and privileged to have this continued connection.