New Edmonton equine centre eases waiting list for popular riding therapy program

A new equine facility that opened last month is already making a difference in the lives of Edmontonians.

Indoor washrooms, a roof that doesn’t leak and above-freezing temperatures allows for year-round riding

We're taking you inside the Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association at Edmonton's Whitemud Equine Learning Centre. 3:15

A new equine facility that opened last month is already making a difference in the lives of Edmontonians.

Since 1975, the Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association has used the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre off Fox Drive to give children and adults of all abilities the opportunity to ride.
The new Whitemud Equine Learning Centre officially opened in October. (John Robertson/CBC)

But a new $7.6-million centre featuring a heated indoor riding arena, viewing grandstands, accessible washrooms, new training and tack areas, means the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre can be used year round.

So for the first time in 42 years, Little Bits will be able to run its program through the winter, said program administrator Linda Rault.
Linda Rault, program administrator of the Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association, overseeing lessons in the new facility. (John Robertson/CBC)

"Nothing therapeutic happens when bodies are cold and shivering now it's so nice and bright and light and the horses have really taken to the new facility," Rault said.

The extended season means riders will be taken off a two-year waiting list to fill the new session starting in January.

"The therapeutic benefits (are) physical, cognitive, emotional and they don't even know they're getting therapy because they're on a horse and it's such a unique setting," Rault said.

"Healthwise it's been marvelous," said John Jackson.

The 78-year-old had polio as a child and lost the use of his legs, but when he's balanced on the back of a horse he's working all sorts of muscles.

"I don't get bad back pain anymore and I used too. The horse makes your entire body work," Jackson said.
Charlie the barn cat makes his home in the stables at the equine centre. (John Robertson/CBC)

Samantha Riemer walks alongside riders like Jackson making sure they're safe while offering encouragement.

The 19-year-old spends her mornings volunteering with the not-for-profit organization and her afternoons in animal health classes at the University of Alberta.

Reimer believes the new building is making a difference.

"There's no snow falling off the ceiling, there's no water dripping constantly and it's a nice temperature in here. It was absolutely freezing in the other arena."

As for the riders, she's witness many transformations.

"It's incredible to see how much control they have over the horse, how much they learn, how they're able to make corrections," Reimer said. "I absolutely love it."

You can see more from the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
A wood-burned and fire-branded mural decorates the entrance to the new centre off Fox Drive in Edmonton's river valley. (John Robertson/CBC)