Seven-year-old Riley Griffith, who has autism, has "blossomed" since he first began horseback riding sessions at North Fraser Therapeutic Ridge Association.
"We started last Spring. The first five weeks he was so full of anxiety. He has just blossomed since then," said mom Selina Griffith.
"He is already asking to ride without anyone holding onto his leg," Selina added.
"I can tell he's developing core and focus. Now he is looking where he is supposed to be looking. He listens to what they say and follows directions," she said.
"From what I've seen so far, [NFTRA] is awesome. This is another means to therapy."
The association provides therapeutic riding programs for people with physical, emotional, and developmental challenges.
"Some kids don't even realize they are in therapy," said Gay Conn, general manager of NFTRA.
The programs have made an incredible difference to the quality of life of several hundred children and adults with varying degrees of disabilities, explained Conn.
Some of the physical benefits to therapeutic riding include improved verbal skills, increased flexibility, balance, and muscle tone, increased strength, improved respiration and circulation, better posture, increased coordination, increased motor development, and freedom from a wheelchair or cane.
Some of the emotional benefits riders experience are gained independence, a sense of achievement, increased self-confidence, patience, improved self-esteem, motivation, empathy, and respect of others.
Another rider who is experiencing the positive outcomes of this therapy is seven-year-old Akshraj Virk.
Akshraj has autism and was brought to his class by respite care provider Norma McEvoy.
"It's such a self-esteem builder. He loves it here," said McEvoy, who added that typical children tend to be impressed with a rider's ability to ride a horse, rather than focus on their disabilities.
None of this would be possible without the NFTRA's 70 volunteers, who are the lifeblood of the organization and who provide more than 4,000 volunteer hours per year. Karen Koch, from Port Moody, is one of those volunteers.
"It's so worth the drive," she said. "I just started volunteering and I love it. It is so nice to see what it does for the children. I'm sure the children feel it too, they're proud of what they accomplish," said Koch.
NFTRA moved about two months ago, from 254th Street to its current facility on Park Lane "It's very exciting to be here and to have all this space," said Conn, "The total property is 17 acres, and part of it is leased out, but most of it is ours and now we can expand," she added.
The association is currently home to seven horses and offers programs to 85 riders, ranging in age from three to 60, every week.
Conn explained that no direct government support is available for therapeutic riding, and that fundraising and volunteers are relied upon.
"With an annual budget of just under $200,000, NFTRA needs to fundraise about $75,000 per year," said Conn.
For more on the NFTRA and its programs, or to make a donation, visit the association's website at: www.nftra.ca, 604-462-7786, or email email@example.com.