Vital People: How the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association is changing lives


Fifteen-year-old Asha has been coming to the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association since she was a little girl.

“After I started, I just felt like horseback riding was where I felt at home,” she says. “I have cerebral palsy, so I struggle a lot with being able to have my body the right way, but there are lot of people who have helped to make that amazing for my life.”

The connection to the horses, and riding, has boosted Asha’s confidence and she’s not alone.

“This is such a fun camp!” says 13-year-old Michael, beaming from ear to ear. “I love being with the horses and I love being with the amazing staff here.”

The non-profit was started more than 40 years ago to give children and adults with diverse abilities a chance to ride.

“Our mantra is connection, teamwork and achievement, so it’s an opportunity for people to come and experience the benefit of connecting with horses — individually, personally, and then connecting with others, so we create a sense of community,” explains Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association executive director Mike Waters.

Participants range in age from six to 80 plus, and more than 200 dedicated volunteers make it possible.

“They’re all really, really nice and caring, and I just love having them with me,” says 12-year-old Carter, who just started riding.

“What I really see is people coming in here and really not only learning the skills around being successful with horses but the personal development around communication, confidence, connection to others,” Mike says.

It’s one of around 40 organizations in One Ability, the Greater Victoria Collaborative for Adapted Sport and Physical Activity.

“One Ability started about eight years ago,” One Ability executive director and co-founder Andrea Carey explains. “A group of organizations coming together, realizing they were all doing really good work supporting people with disabilities in sport and physical activity, they didn’t really know about each other.”

Coming together has led to new programs and more opportunities like this for people in Greater Victoria.

“It’s fun being on the horse, and the horse always likes being there with you,” Michael says.

That’s exactly how Asha feels about Joey, her favourite horse.

“She’s strong, she’s beautiful, she’s extremely unique, and I just feel so proud that I get to ride because it makes me feel whole,” she says.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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