The Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society

Words by Hilary Doucette
Photo by Bill Jorgensen

A place to belong and find peace.

 


 

As you walk through the sliding door of the barn, the smell of the earth is the first thing you notice; then, the sweet scent of hay and the quiet chewing and nickering of the horses. The lazy morning sunlight streams through the open paddock doors and a breath puffs from your lungs into swirling clouds of mist, joining the dozens of others coming from the horses. Is there a better way to start the day? This peaceful moment won’t last long as soon the lobby and arena will fill with the sound of riders and volunteers coming in for classes–their laughter and greetings, busy footsteps, the roll of a wheelchair, and the thud of a cane. The coffee is hot but terrible, yet still gets drunk by the gallon. This is the way each morning starts at the Comox Valley Therapeutic Riding Society (CVTRS).

CVTRS has been helping riders with diversabilities for the last 32 years. Comfortably nestled on the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, the barn is surrounded by acres of trails, fields, and riverbanks. These natural elements combine to create a space for healing, therapy, growth, and peace. For many riders, the sound of the river flowing strongly downstream, or a cobweb, with its gown of dew, provides sensory stimulation, bringing an awareness of their surroundings and their body, even if just for the hour they are riding their horse. For other riders, it’s the soft whisper of the breeze through the leaves, stirring the gentle scent of the horse’s mane, that soothes and brings peace to their sometimes hectic, and often complicated, lives.

From cerebral palsy to Down syndrome, life-altering brain injuries to skydiving accidents, childhood trauma to anxiety, there is no one way to be at CVTRS. From the back of a horse, everyone is made equal, and for an hour the riders can forget what it is to move in a world not always designed for them. They walk up high with their horse, cares left on the ground below.

It’s not only the riders who feel uplifted. The 100+ volunteers who give their time each week—through mud and rain (and terrible coffee)—find what fills their souls in the sometimes chilly drafts of the barn aisles. There is nothing the volunteers won’t do to help and they give so much more than they take. Knowing that they have made a difference in someone’s day is what fuels the heart of a volunteer; seeing a smile on the face of a rider and the partnership between them and their horse is all the reward they need. There is no more noble or admirable person than a volunteer; their selflessness shines like a beacon, drawing others to them with its warmth.

The community that grows from the people who make up CVTRS is the driving force behind its success. The staff and volunteers work as a unit, taking equal pleasure in the achievements and happiness of the riders, sharing a strong sense of pride in the exceptional care the horses receive. The community rallies around the barn with donations and offers of help, and even the youngest members gladly give some birthday money to help feed apples to the horses. It truly takes the whole of the Comox Valley to nurture and help grow the life changing programs that CVTRS provide.

As the day winds down and the horses set to dinner in their stalls, the quiet meditation of the barn returns. The scent of hay drifts down the shedrow and the creak of leather and buckles echoes quietly as saddles are removed and halters hung on hooks. The horses softly call to each other as they are brought in from the fields. The light from the stall windows goes dark. This is a time for reflection, to let the business of the day leave your mind. As the last horse is fed and the last light turned off, you breathe a sigh into the dark and leave knowing that you’ve made a difference. Is there any better feeling?

Find out more at www.cvtrs.com