Disabled community heartbroken as ‘amazing’ therapeutic riding program closes in Nanaimo

Disabled community heartbroken as 'amazing' therapeutic riding program closes in Nanaimo

Using crutches to cross a Lantzville stable Thursday, Kathy Wilson was drawn like a magnet to the horses, taking in a deep breath of her long-lost friends.

“Horses have a heavenly smell,” said Wilson.

It’s something she has missed since the closure of the ETRA Therapeutic Riding Program, which brought her a “life-changing” remission from mobility issues and many of her multiple sclerosis symptoms for the two-and-a-half-years she rode with them.

“What hit me was I’m feeling muscles that I haven’t been able to talk to for over 20 years,” said Wilson, a Parksville resident and former ETRA client.

“I was very surprised, and her mobility had improved tremendously,” said Wilson’s husband, Bert Jacobs.

“It’s magical what the horses and volunteers do. Absolute magical,” said Wilson.

For three decades, the therapeutic riding program run by ETRA, helped clients with disabilities all over the mid-Island gain strength and confidence on the backs of these patient horses, guided by teams of volunteers who were just as in awe of the progress they witnessed.

“And just to see the connection between the horses and the clients. That’s something that we can facilitate and support, but we can’t do that. Horses seem to know,” said Kath Drew, the former treasurer of ETRA.

But there were struggles to find a certified instructor. Then the pandemic shut the program down for over two years, and ETRA never found its feet again.

This week it officially ended its remarkable run by donating its remaining funds to fellow non-profits that are advancing the lives of people with disabilities and animal welfare on the mid-Island.

“It was an amazing, amazing program. Very sad to see it go,” said Drew.

ETRA estimates its therapeutic horsepower helped thousands of clients in its 30-year run, ranging from four-year-old children to adults in their 50’s.

“It’s just incredible, So I’m trying to be a big girl, but. It sounds terrible but I’d kill to do this again,” said Wilson.

With her body now losing the gains it has made, Wilson hopes a therapeutic riding program may one day be restarted here, for the benefit of everyone now missing it.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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