Therapeutic Riding celebrating 30 years

What started as a modest local organization for therapeutic riding has become one of the most successful in the country

What started as a modest local organization for therapeutic riding has become one of the most successful in the country, helping hundreds of people per year.

This year the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association celebrates its 30th anniversary, marking decades of providing nationally-accredited therapeutic riding for those with mental and physical challenges.

“We’re celebrating the whole year, so there’s a number of different events planned,” explained CTRA development officer Jennifer Barnes van Elk.

These include CTRA’s upcoming annual general meeting, a volunteer appreciation week, the CTRA Ride-A-Thon in early June and a big 30th anniversary celebration on Saturday, June 18 at CTRA grounds on Providence Farm.

“It will be a big open-to-the-public celebration featuring demonstrations, entertainment, presentations; just a bunch of families and everyone’s welcome to join us,” Barnes van Elk said of the free event.

CTRA is a registered charity and is a tenant and community partner of Providence Farm located at 1843 Tzouhalem Rd. in Duncan.

“Providence was gifted to the community via the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association via the Sisters of Saint Ann in 2003. But the farm is for the community, and the sisters have really wanted to communicate that. And CTRA is a part of that, we’re a major presence on the farm,” Barnes van Elk said.

CTRA keeps a herd of around 12 to 14 horses, selected for their medium build, good health and steady temperament and gait. Last year over 900 visitors came by CTRA and more are always welcome to look around and check out CTRA’s free equestrian store and used tack shop, open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There are five six-week sessions per year at CTRA, each welcoming over 100 participants for riding lessons or training in horsemanship and stable management. Ages four and up are accepted. Rides take place at CTRA’s indoor and outdoor riding arenas and around the farm property.

This year will also feature a five-week summer camp with around a dozen participants expected for each week of the camp. Many participants repeat programming, while others come for only one session.

“This year we will have approximately 150 unique participants,” Barnes van Elk said.

Users of CTRA programming are referred by a medical professional for everything from developmental or physical disability to recovery from an injury such as a car accident.

“For some riders it might just be the ability to sit up independently on the carpet at home as a result of their therapeutic riding, but for a family of a child with a disability this can be a monumental achievement,” Barnes van Elk said, adding that participants may receive grants of their own as well through things like autism funding, school funding and other options.

“Other times it’s as dramatic as somebody who has had an accident regaining the ability to walk because of the therapeutic intervention. When a rider is on a horse and utilizing the therapy there’s what’s called the three-dimensional movement of the horse, so it mimics the human gait… The body rebuilds its neural connections and muscle memories of walking,” Barnes van Elk said, adding “It’s also instrumental in things like bodily processes like circulation and digestion.”

CTRA has three full-time employees, around 15 part-time employees, and around 125 active volunteers.

It is funded approximately 30 per cent through user fees and 70 per cent through community contributions and volunteer support, with several small municipal grants, according to van Elk. It receives no direct government funding.

“We’re funded for the most part through the support of the community,” Barnes van Elk said.

CTRA’s 2016 operating budget is $366,400. Barnes van Elk’s said volunteer donation of services and goods last year including 6,466 hours of labour equalled $194,000 value, and this year’s budget is kept down to $366,400 partly because of this hefty volunteer contribution.

CTRA’s AGM takes place Thursday, March 3 at Providence Farm.

The AGM will include guest speakers on the topic of My Next 30 Years: Planned Giving for Every Budget. Remarks start at 6:30 p.m., with the meeting set to begin at 7 p.m.

To find out more about CTRA visit or call 250-746-1028.