On Saturday December 10, 2016 over 100 people are expected to attend Hope Haven Therapeutic Riding and Wellness Centre outside of Markdale, ON to support and cheer on more than 20 challenged equestrians at the second annual Christmas Wonderland Horse Show and Volunteer Appreciation lunch.
With the help of volunteers, staff and their trusted equine mounts, challenged riders will navigate an obstacle course in the indoor arena to earn prizes and praise from supportive family and friends looking on. The Horse Show begins a 10 am followed by a volunteer appreciation lunch in the Activity Centre. There are over 80 active volunteers at Hope Haven who assist with the varied programs like Therapeutic Riding, Physical Activity for Lifelong Skills (PALs), Specialty Half Day Programs, maintaining the grounds, trails and buildings all of which supports individuals from age 6-96 to experience Hope Haven. "It takes three volunteers to support one new rider in our programs. Without our fabulous volunteers, we simple could not run our programs, they are the foundation of Hope, and their dedication is inspiring" said Kimberley Black, Executive Director of Hope Haven.
Black joined the Hope Haven team this past May and since then significant growth has occurred. "we needed to expand if we were going to continue, the Board of Directors and staff here at Hope Haven believe in the value that the experience here can bring to an individual's life, I just needed to find a way to get more people here," she said. Shortly after she arrived, Black approached area schools to participate in a pilot project. Hearing from the schools that a greater number of children are experiencing anxiety, which in turn debilitates a child's ability to learn. Black knew a program could be developed to target this challenge and help the children. Thanks to a generous donation from Eva Leflar Foundation, she launched the School Based Program. So far more than 40 elementary aged children have benefited and more schools are waiting in the wings.
Black encouraged a partnership with the schools to help run the program but more importantly help the children to progress at a faster rate. Each school sent staff members to Hope Haven's volunteer training so that they could help by supporting their students while they learn to ride. "Partnering with the schools allowed the therapeutic process to evolve at a faster rate. The children know and trust their Educational Assistants, and when someone they trust is walking alongside of them as they learn a new skill, fear dissipates and then in turn the learning and healing process begins," she said.
Other ways that the anxiety is being targeted is through the alternative programs offered at Hope Haven. Last Spring the Ministry of Sport and Recreation awarded Hope Haven a grant to initiate a new program called Physical Activities for Lifelong Sills (PALS). When the schools arrive, they are divided into two smaller groups and while Group A is riding, Group B will participate in yoga, Taiichi, hikes on the trails or snowshoeing and on their final visit they work with an Art Therapist. "All of the activities give the children different tools to help them manage their anxiety levels independently, but they also help them to enjoy a variety of physical activities to encourage healthy living" Black said.
Another demographic that Black felt could benefit from the Hope Haven experience was Seniors. Having worked as a Social Worker in area Long Term Care facilities, Black knew that this population would have no problem connecting to the environment and experiences with the horses. "Many of the individuals who visited us this past summer grew up on a farm and some may have used horses to plow their fields and even as a mode of transportation; for these Seniors, a visit to Hope was like returning home," she said.
At the luncheon on Saturday, volunteers, family members and riders will be entertained by members of The Black Family Singers, enjoy a wagon ride and of course a visit by a very special guest. "It is important for us to celebrate as a community, celebrate achievement, growth and the gift of giving which our volunteers and donors so well," Black said.
Hope Haven is a registered charity and currently has launched its Making Hope Happen campaign to raise money to make improvements to the facility that will include wheelchair accessible pathways, washrooms and to help launch an accessible carriage driving program. To make a contribution follow the Canada Helps link on the Hope Haven webpage.