Saskatoon

Riding with confidence: Therapy horse brings serenity to Sask. boy

The smile on Sawyer Webb’s face lets his mother know just how much he’s enjoying his sessions at Serenity Farm.

Serenity Farm at Southey, Sask., offers therapy riding for children with special needs

Erin Fletcher and her therapy horse Light walk with Sawyer and Carmen Webb as Sawyer has his third riding session. (B. Paul/Submitted to CBC)

The smile on Sawyer Webb's face lets his mother know just how much he's enjoying his sessions at Serenity Farm.

Sawyer and his mom, Carmen, have visited the Southey, Sask., farm a couple of times for the young boy to ride therapy horses.

"I've only heard good things about therapy riding. It benefits kids with special needs in a positive way," Carmen told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend. "So I thought, there's really no harm in trying."

Along with improving Sawyer's sleep, Carmen is hopeful the lessons can help her son gain some confidence, develop strength and give him a chance to be involved in something athletic.

Sawyer is just one of the children with autism that teacher Erin Fletcher has worked with.

Sawyer Webb went from having to have his parents stabilize him, to trotting on Light the therapy horse in just three sessions. (B. Paul/Submitted to CBC)

Fletcher said no matter who her student is, the key is to make sure to take things slow and not set any expectations.

For Sawyer's first lesson Fletcher had his dad walk alongside the boy as he sat on Light the therapy horse, holding Sawyer to stabilize him.

"He started to relax and giggle," Fletcher described.

By his third session, Sawyer didn't need his parents to stabilize him.

"What I've seen is it starts with the actual physical process of riding," Fletcher said of therapy riding. "Their muscles, circulation and nervous system — through the spine — are stimulated. And often the most-immediate results are they're more relaxed."

Carmen is also noticing Sawyer's confidence improving. After his second session, Carmen took Sawyer to a park where he tried something he hadn't before.

Now when Carmen tells Sawyer it's time to go for a lesson, he starts to smile.

"He's not very verbal so he's not able to tell me many of his thoughts or his feelings, but his reaction to things will tell me right away what he's feeling. So the fact that he's excited each time is a really great sign."

Therapy riding sessions at Serenity Farm near Southey, Sask. introduce children like Sawyer Webb to horses, and allows them to gain confidence and athletic skills. (B. Paul/Submitted to CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Markewich joined CBC News in 2016 after working in radio for five years. She is based in Saskatoon. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Markewich is passionate about sharing stories of the province's people. Her focus now is bringing these stories to social media on CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon's platforms. Her work on The Pit was recognized by the RTDNA Canada National Awards for Excellence in Social Media in 2020. You can contact her at courtney.markewich@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend

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