Holly and the other horses at Forever Memories Equestrian Centre have helped Austin Cleveland both physically and emotionally. The young boy is one of many people who take part in the therapeutic riding program.
Shelby Gatti’s Forever Memories Equestrian Centre one of few year-round therapy centres
For many of the students in a local program, horseback riding isn’t just a hobby, but a life-changing form of therapy.
People of all ages are benefitting from a therapeutic riding program operated on the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition grounds in Bible Hill by Shelby Gatti of Forever Memories Equestrian Centre.
One of the students who has improved dramatically since he got involved with the program about three years ago is six-year-old Austin Cleveland.
“When he started he couldn’t sit up,” his mother Amy says. “This has improved his core strength and the improvement is amazing.”
Austin now happily feeds the horses treats and is able to sit up on their backs.
“There are 67 students in the program now,” Gatti says. “This is one of the few year-round programs, so there are students from as far as Halifax and Pictou County taking part.
“It not only helps the students physically, but gives them confidence. Parents have told me their children became more confident in school and around other kids. We’ve seen improvements in speech with many of them.”
Gatti got involved in therapeutic riding because she loves horses and enjoys working with people. She studied through PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International and began working with autistic children about four years ago. She now has other young people involved in helping out in the program.
“It takes a special horse to take part in this program and it has taken me a long time to find the right ones,” she explained. “They have to be patient because they walk many circles. They need to be kind and easy going because they’re what makes the difference. They’re the instructors; I’m just there to help guide them.”
At the age of 24, an appaloosa called Fancy is the senior horse in the program. The youngest is a Fjord called Seth. At only three years of age he is just learning, but his gentle manner makes him suitable as a future therapeutic riding horse.
Leah Swan, who was born with leg issues, began riding in the program a year and a half ago to help build strength.
“Riding has helped strengthen my legs and helped me agility wise,” she says. “Walking is now easier for me. I enjoy riding Mercedes because she’s so smooth. I now have horses of my own I hope to ride soon.”
Gatti and her horses give back to the community in a variety of ways. They have staged a fundraiser for Autism Nova Scotia, a toy drive and visited sites such as the library and the Recreation Park for special events. The horses have been involved in both 4-H and Dal AC activities and will be participating in both Atlantic Grand Circuit Week and the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition this year.
Many young people are taking part in day camps during the summer and accommodations are made for those who need one-on-one assistance.
“This is a place for riders of different levels and where everybody is welcome,” Gatti says. “We hope everyone who comes here will feel at home.”
Lynn Curwin is a journalist and animal lover. She lives in Bible Hill. To share your Bible Hill news, email her at email@example.com.