Equine therapy riders in Edmonton face impacts of COVID-19 restrictions

Edmonton’s Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association is currently closed because of public health restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.

In addition, specialized programming it offers to help those with disabilities is on hold, but management wants to change that.

Taya Nolan, 12, has a rare disease and has been visiting the centre with Little Bits Therapeutic Riding for several years.

“It’s called trisomy 9,” Taya’s mother Jennifer Nolan said Saturday. “She was diagnosed when she was two. Since she was a baby, she’s had multiple surgeries for [her] dislocated hip [and] eye issues.”

Before the pandemic, she and her mother would participate in weekly horse therapy sessions.

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“It’s been heartbreaking that she hasn’t had the opportunity. Every Sunday, I think of it at two o’clock, I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s her lesson that’s supposed to be happening right now but it can’t,’” Jennifer said.

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The centre has been closed since municipal public health restrictions were implemented.

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“The majority of our revenues are coming from our lesson programs and because those lesson programs can’t run, revenues are down between 70 per cent and 80 per cent and as a result, we have had to let our staff go in order to make sure we can survive through this,” Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association vice-chair Heather Hilton explained.

With all programs and classes suspended, Taya has been left without her weekly horse rides.

“She talks about it all the time. She knows that she’s missing out so it makes her sad,” Jennifer said.

Like many others who participate in the therapy, she has not been able to find a support that is quite the same.

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“Horseback riding mimics the actual movement of walking, so someone could have that sensation of this is how it feels to walk,” Andrea Wiebe with Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association said.

Wiebe added that it helps with motor planning and core strength. Missing the physical benefits and the emotional tie to the animals has many hoping the centre will once again open its gates to the public.

“We’re hoping to work with our city partner and say, ‘This is our plan, this is what we would like to do and please give us the OK to go ahead and do it,’” Hilton said.

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The centre said it is working to meet all health and safety guidelines so that visitors like Taya can get back in the saddle.

The changes would include lower capacity and increased cleaning. The centre hopes to reopen by next weekend.

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