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Yarmouth equestrian centre tacks up success with therapeutic riding program


Facility’s 2nd annual therapeutic riding show in April resulted in excited first-time winners

OVERTON, N.S. —

Amy Walls and her team are harnessing the healing power of horses to help improve the lives of people with special needs.
She and her husband Steve Corkum own Stetson Hill Equestrian Centre, located in Overton, just outside Yarmouth.
Perched high on the top of a hill, the riding centre has a view as grand as its purpose.
As a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, Walls adapts leisure activities to a person’s barriers and/or their strengths. That’s where her four-legged assistants come in.
“When grooming a horse you’re having to do upper extremity exercises – strengthening, conditioning, which physical therapy would do,” she says.
“You could be using a medicine ball to develop trunk mobility and stabilization. You can do that while riding a horse.” 
Since launching the therapeutic riding program (in addition to providing mainstream riding lessons) at Stetson Hill in 2007, the business has grown significantly. Walls receives many referrals, including self-referrals.

Kaylie Spinney, 14, had a stroke when she was born that left her with mobility problems on her left side. You wouldn’t know it when you see her astride her steed, Sally.
Kaylie Spinney, 14, had a stroke when she was born that left her with mobility problems on her left side. You wouldn’t know it when you see her astride her steed, Sally.


Her students include the elderly from Veteran’s Place, some in wheelchairs, who come to have lunch and do some grooming. There are those from Alzheimers dementia units, from group homes and others in foster care, transitional units, as well as youths with special needs, etc., and many more, from Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties.
Some students pay out of pocket for the program, others receive financial assistance through organizations like JumpStart. 
The teaching facility is large enough for them all, with 33 stalls, an insulated 150-foot arena and an attached 50-foot indoor round pen. Outside there is a 100 x 200 outdoor ring, with 50-foot round pen, plus paddocks.
Walls has 18 horses of her own, with some working as lesson horses and others that compete in shows. 
There’s a lot of physical activity happening during the classes. Students don’t just show up with the horse ready to go. They’re taught to clean stalls, feed the horses, groom them, put the tack on and through it all – getting to know them.
Walls is a compassionate realist. 
“There’s goal setting, re-direction if they can’t do it anymore. It’s hard, life’s hard, but they keep accomplishing and the horses are not judgmental. They like you every time you come here. They become your best friend. That enables them to not get discouraged or feel rejected or lose hope on learning a new skill,” she says. 
In April, the facility’s second annual therapeutic riding show was held, judged by Sherrye Johnson-Trafton. For this competition, some of the facility’s regular students were integrated into the therapeutic riding program, with all competing at the same level. Students received T-shirts and winners received certificates and ribbons. Competitors also decorated a horseshoe for a souvenir.
Walls says that there are opportunities in showing events, where disabilities disappear.
“They’re competing at the same level as you or I would do and doing well, or beating (others),” she says.
“They’re controlling this 1,200-pound animal, sitting on top of the world, showing. For the first time, they’re able to be as you or I.”
“If you don’t walk in those shoes you don’t ever realize what a struggle it is to try to fit in. Or to want to be included in a team activity. You don’t ever get that shirt, or that jersey or award.” 
Walls remembers one youth who walked around the ring after receiving his award shouting, “I’m a winner! I’m a winner!”  
“I’m sure he’s never had that opportunity before. It just kind of grabs your heart. As much as we do for them, they do for us."
She’s had family members of students tell her their child has slept in a show T-shirt for two days because they didn’t want to take it off.
“That tells you something.” 


Kim Anderson boards her horses at Stetson Hill and has witnessed remarkable events at the facility.
One student, who has been participating in the therapeutic riding program for years, was riding an older horse called Lacey in a showmanship class. 
“When he was done, he reached forward and put his hand on her face and rubbed it and gave her a great big hug," Anderson says. “It was so moving, because he genuinely felt gratitude and love for that horse. To have this resource here, as a family member of someone who has had a developmental delay, it’s a great resource."
Jack Collier, the young son of Elizabeth Nickerson and Peter Collier, has a rare chromosomal disorder called 49,XXXXY syndrome that only affects boys. 
Jack lights up when he’s helped on to Lacey’s saddle. Although he’s typically shy around crowds, he shone during the show.
“I never thought in a million years that he’d ever do that. I cried,” says his mom.
Jack has low muscle tone and the riding is making his posture stronger. 
“He has to take care of the horse too, he has to clean it and brush it and clean the stall. It’s such a good learning experience for him and teaches him responsibility,” she adds.
Walls has about 50 students. Tuesdays are her therapeutic riding days: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
Kaylie Spinney, 14, had a stroke when she was born that left her with mobility problems on her left side. You wouldn’t know it when you see her astride her steed, Sally.
“The therapeutic riding has been really good for her,” says her mother, Jody Spinney. “She’s been riding since she was 7 or 8, once a week."
Rachelle Isadore has been a student at Stetson Hill for close to four years. She’s learned much over that time and now volunteers. She says the work that Walls is doing is inspiring.
“I like that Amy’s so calm with everybody and the horses. She’s helped so many people," Isadore says. "I want to work with horses and do what she’s doing someday."
More info about Stetson Hill
Location: 99 Overton Road
Yarmouth, NS
Email 

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