Riding Keno was a goal realized for eight-year-old Grace Teboekhorst.
The Maple Ridge girl, who has nephrotic syndrome – a rare, chronic, and life-threatening kidney disease – had yearned to climb on the back of the largest horse at the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association (NFTRA).
She got her chance to ride Keno in early June and then again in mid-July and came away beaming on both occasions.
Grace is one of many who benefit from NFTRA, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to children and adults with varying degrees of disabilities.
The fact she rode Keno, who stands just over 15 hands tall, speaks volumes about how far she has progressed as a rider, said outgoing NFTRA general manager Gay Conn.
“I just like bigger horses,” Grace said.
“Grace is fearless – absolutely fearless,” said her mom Melissa.
Once-a-week lessons at NFTRA provide emotional and physical support for Grace, who has a disease so rare, roughly five out of every 100,000 children are diagnosed with it every year.
Grace underwent a successful kidney transplant in August 2010, with her dad Dennis being the donor. By the time Grace had her transplant, she had less than 20 per cent of kidney function remaining and was at the hospital four times a week for hemodialysis.
Meanwhile, the family’s relationship with NFTRA dates back five years, when Grace was initially diagnosed.
“Grace had always loved horses,” Melissa said. “We aren’t horse people so we’re like, ‘Where did this come from?’”
“Horses freak you out,” a smiling Grace told her mom.
The family learned about NFTRA through articles they read in the local press. Melissa contacted the association and started the application process. Grace started riding with NFTRA in the fall of 2009.
After one short session she had surgery and was unable to continue riding, Conn related.
“However, she had caught the horse bug and was always determined to get back in the saddle again,” Conn added.
“It would be two years before Grace achieved that goal but she is now active in our program again and continuing to aim higher. So high that she has now ridden Keno, the tallest horse in the herd.”
Melissa said her daughter loves to ride.
“She had come off life support at one point and the way we knew she was getting better is, she would say, ‘Mom, I’m ready to ride. When can I ride?’”
When Grace is on the back of a NFTRA horse, all of her worries, her fears, seem to melt away.
“Everything else is behind her,” Melissa said.
Essentially, nephrotic syndrome has stolen Grace’s immune system. The disease invaded Grace’s body when she was three.
She awoke one morning with puffiness around her eyes. Melissa didn’t think much of it and sent her daughter to preschool.
The teacher later phoned Melissa, informing her that Grace was having a hard time breathing during yoga.
“She has had this cold for about 10 days and usually after about seven days Grace would have kicked it,” Melissa recalled. “I took her to her doctor, and he got us in to [see] a pediatrician the next day.”
Grace was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome on Dec. 8, 2009.
At the time, the family had zero knowledge about the disease.
Grace began a hydro-steroid regimen for six to eight weeks.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Grace and her family went on a trip to Hawaii and by the time they arrived home, then three-and-a-half-year-old Grace had accumulated six extra kilograms of fluid on her body.
Grace’s eyes were swollen shut.
She was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. From there, Grace’s mom and dad drove her to BC Children’s Hospital.
“And we never looked back,” Melissa said, “because she required that kind of specialized care.”
Moving forward, Grace’s health has stabilized.
The ambassador with the BC Children’s Hospital Champion Child program, she recently returned home after spending a week in Mission at Camp Zajac, which provides camps for children and young adults with chronic, life-threatening and/or debilitating conditions.
“She’s doing great right now,” Melissa said. “She’s healthy. It’s definitely a different kind of lifestyle, being immuno-suppressed. It’s not dissimilar to having a child with AIDS.”
NFTRA riders including Grace are benefiting from an upcoming RCMP Musical Ride performance.
The 32-rider, 32-horse troop will perform its mounted cavalry drill show at the Albion Fairgrounds at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Agricultural Association applied to have the musical ride perform at the fairgrounds.
Association chair Lorraine Bates realizes the benefits of NFTRA, Conn said, and liked the connection with horses.
“So Lorraine chose us to share in the proceeds,” Conn elaborated.
Maple Ridge is the second-to-last show for the musical ride team in B.C., and the third-to-last for their season.
The ride, like the previous ones held here in 2001 and 2009, will be at the Albion Fairgrounds. With festival seating, people are encouraged to arrive early.
Limited tickets might still be available at $15 each from the RCMP office at 11990 Haney Pl., the tourism office at 12492 Harris Rd., the NFTRA at 12471 254th St., or from the Country Fest office at the fairgrounds. They’re also available online at www.mrpmcountryfest.com, click musical ride.
In addition to the RCMP Musical Ride performing at Albion Fairgrounds Thursday, Sept. 5, there are two free chances for local people to visit with two horses and riders:
* PItt Meadows Spirit Square, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., and
* Memorial Peace Park, 2 to 3 p.m.
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