A flood of teenagers are about to finish school for the year and descend upon couches across Whitehorse, or wherever teens go. If you’re a parent looking for something productive and community-oriented for your kids 14-years-old and up to do, consider sending them to Freedom Trails Riding Association to volunteer.
Freedom Trails offers horse-riding therapy to people with Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, brain injury, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, emotional trauma, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and other disabilities.
Yukon Minister of Justice Mike Nixon is a big supporter of the Freedom Trails program. His 11-year-old son Jack has ASD and has been participating in riding therapy since he was five years old.
“It’s a fantastic program,” Nixon said. “It’s definitely a program he enjoys doing and he looks forward to.
“Jack has two emotions: really happy and really angry – or frustrated. When he’s frustrated he can be challenging – he can pinch and scratch. But you don’t see it when he’s on the horse. He wants that horse to go – to go full speed.”
Each class has one certified instructor and three riders, while some riders don’t require a volunteer controlling their horse, other riders will have up to three volunteers attending to them: one controlling the horse and one or two supporting the rider.
When Jack participates in a riding class, he’ll manouever around cones; walk the horse up to a post with a ball, pluck a ball from a post and drop it in a basket; and practice horsemanship skills. All the while, Jack is engaging socially, and developing a variety of skills.
“(The program) has definitely been a component in building his confidence over the past six years and it’s helped him to try new things,” Nixon says.
Freedom Trails is starting its new season this month, and while classes are full, many volunteers are needed.
Executive Director Judy Fortin says they are looking for experienced horse people to lead and for people who are simply comfortable being around a horse to support the rider.
The classes have been developed over the past 17 years by working with physiotherapists in the Yukon and sharing methods with other equine therapy organizations across North America. Volunteers need only bring care and responsibility.
“The horse is doing the physiotherapy,” Fortin says. “What we have to do is provide the safety aspect of it; the horse experience; and people who love to work with people.”
Fortin says volunteers get benefits out of the program, too.
“It’s one happy place,” she says. “There are lots of smiles — the volunteers, the riders. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”
Freedom Trails classes run for 10 weeks starting the last week of May. Volunteers are needed for a minimum of one hour per week, during classes that run from 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through Thursdays. They are located half an hour north of Whitehorse.
For more information contact Judy Fortin by email at [email protected] or by phone at 633-5911.