A helping hoof: Horse therapy popular in Saskatoon
Therapeutic Equilibrium Riding works with children and adults with physical and cognitive challenges
"Anybody who really loves horses to the point that I do can pretty much agree that it's sort of in your DNA," said Erin McCormick.
She had just finished teaching a class of three children in their early teens on her acreage north of Saskatoon. Her hair was wrapped up in a tuque and one of her young daughters is by her side.
McCormick owns Therapeutic Equilibrium Riding. Every week, she teaches 110 children and adults with varying degrees of physical and cognitive challenges using therapeutic horseback riding.
McCormick's attraction to horses is in her blood. Her grandfather was a horseman, and her father and aunt loved horses. She would spend summers riding at her aunt's farm in Manitoba and would spend her weekends in Saskatoon volunteering at a non-profit horse therapy program when she was in Grade 7.
Watching children who had physical and cognitive disabilities experience joy while horseback riding sparked in her a belief that she could make a difference through horse therapy.
One of the students from her early days volunteering is still a part of her life.
"She is close to my age, but was a kid who was learning to be around horses," McCormick said. "You could see she wanted to do it, and she had all this great support, but there were all these mini factors that were holding her back. One of them was fear and the other was her ability to process. We needed to break things down to mini steps, and so being a part of her path was very cool and instrumental in my intrigue into all of this."
Therapeutic Equilibrium Riding opened its riding arena doors in 2001. It started small. One or two clients would ride Flash, a horse McCormick handpicked because of his calm and strong demeanour.
The demand quickly grew as more people learned about the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding.
Did you know that your pelvis moves in the same way on a horse as it is when you're walking? There are no other devices that can move your pelvis in this way. The horse does this naturally.
"So for someone who is in a wheelchair or is unable to walk or needs help with their walking, it stimulates walking reflexes," McCormick said.
There are a host of cognitive benefits as well. For example, to a non-verbal autistic child, riding a horse forces them to look at their instructor to know what to do. McCormick said children in speech therapy benefit from working with horses by having their posture and breathing improved. It also helps build self-confidence.
It's apparent McCormick loves a challenge. It could be training a new horse for the special job that awaits them. It could mean developing the right program that facilitates an autistic child to improve their verbal skills and become more comfortable in the classroom.
It could also mean finding balance between offering her heart to the children who need her help in the riding arena and being there for her own children and husband just across the yard.
She said being a female entrepreneur has its own set of challenges and knows she has missed quality family time while building her business.
When asked if her husband loves horses like she does, she said: "Nobody loves horses the way I do, but he is supportive because he sees the good this does. It's not rocket science to see how much people are getting out of being here."
Spend an afternoon with McCormick at her acreage, surrounded by beautiful horses and a strong sense of community, and you'll ask yourself: "Why aren't we all riding horses?"
This article is based on an episode of YXE Underground. It's a podcast focusing on people in Saskatoon who are making a difference in the community but are not receiving the attention they deserve in social or mainstream media. You can listen to YXE Underground here. You can also download episodes on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice.