Therapeutic riding program in desperate need on mid-Island


WATCH: A therapeutic riding program on the Mid Island is in danger of shutting down after a 30-year run if it can’t find an instructor soon. A serious labour shortage in trained workers is impacting therapeutic riding programs from Comox to Cowichan right now, but as Skye Ryan reports ETRA, where 40 clients with physical and emotional issues now find healing, soon will have no instructor.

In the company of horses, nine-year-old Callie Bisset comes alive.

Her struggles with PTSD from her father’s stroke falling away with the shedding of their hair, scent and sounds

“It’s just really nice to see them,” said Callie Bisset.

“Its very calming and I really like it.”

Since starting ETRA Therapeutic Riding, her mom says Callie is eating, sleeping and doesn’t wake up with nightmares anymore.

“It was like a whisper of hope that I will never ever forget,” said Angie Bisset.

Yet after three decades of operating, ETRA is facing a very uncertain future. Unable to find a new instructor.

“It would be a real shame to have it collapse,” said Angie.

As the labour shortage impacts every sector imaginable.

ETRA’s current instructor Sheila Morrison needs to retire and despite a year’s notice and now agreeing to stay on through the spring, no replacement that’s both Equine Canada and certified through Cantra can be found.

The shortage of trained therapy workers is affecting riding programs up and down Vancouver Island.

“There aren’t very many of us in Canada,” said Sheila Morrison.

“And it’s very hard to fill a part-time job. I teach full time for two days a week.”

Morrison says the rewards in this work though are so much more than monetary.

“It’s so rewarding to see very fast changes in the abilities of the children and changes in temperament,” said Morrison.

So now ETRA is trying to attract a less qualified instructor and train them up, to keep the program going.

“We have an adult at the moment with MS who’s absolutely thrilled to bits with the improvement in her body,” said Morrison.

Angie Bisset hopes it doesn’t come to closure for the sake of her daughter and the 40 other clients who have come to rely on healing with horses, that’s reaching them in a way they haven’t been before.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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