A therapeutic riding society in Telkwa is using horses as therapy for children and adults with special needs by forming deep relationships between riders and horses.
The Nick Memorial Therapeutic Equestrian Riders Society, or Nickers, was formed five years ago by Krysia and Mike Van Arem and uses horse-related activities for therapeutic purposes and is the first of its kind in the Bulkley Valley.
“The horse is the closest thing to the human gait . . . for every minute that you’re on the horse, it produces roughly 110 multidimensional movements. It moves you forward and backward, up and down, every angle and it actually is so beneficial because our bodies are designed to move,” said Krysia Van Arem, the program director and certified riding instructor.
“It will help you physically, psychologically and mentally. It has helped people who haven’t talked in nine years. It can help kids that have had an abused background. It helps in many different ways.”
For roughly an hour a week, riders learn to groom, care for and ride the horse. Van Arem said she lets riders work at their own pace and doesn’t rush them so they build a connection with the animal.
“We try to empower them as much as possible. I want the rider to get there, versus getting picked up and putting them on,” she said, adding that riders are fitted with helmets, boots and a safety belt.
“It’s all about building a relationship with the animal.”
The society has become a big part of Van Arem’s life and is something very close to her heart.
Her son Nick (whom the society was named after) was born with hydrocephalus, a condition in which there is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. He had to be fitted with a mechanical shunt just five days after his birth.
Nick had right-sided challenges and starting riding when he was nine years old.
According to Van Arem, they could see a difference within a month of riding.
“He was starting to sit better, he was walking a little better,” she said. “It’s just seeing how much it helped him and I knew that it could help so many other people.”
Five years later, Nick passed away as a result of a shunt blockage at the age of 14.
Van Arem used the very horses that helped her son to help her through her grief.
“I would just sit on them. They knew. They would come up to me in the field,” she said. “There was a huge void to fill. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll go out and brush one. There’s a lot of things that I can’t describe, but it does happen.”
Now, Van Arem, along with roughly a dozen volunteers, run the society for two months in the spring, and September to October at her property.
They have three horses on the farm and borrow additional horses when needed.
“It helps the individuals. Some kids will learn a routine and when they come out into the community, especially in school, they can start following a routine better,” said Van Arem. “There’s something about the horse that brings them out of their shell. They feel better about themselves.”
Theresa Mohr’s then 16-year-old son Alex was in the program for a season and learned to ride a horse for the first time.
“He was definitely really proud of himself, he couldn’t believe he had done that,” said Mohr. “There’s something magical about horses.”
“The biggest thing is the reward. The rewards aren’t measurable, they’re not monetary, it’s the smiles, it’s the sudden build in confidence or the physical improvement,” said Van Arem.
Mohr is also organizing a benefit concert next month to help raise money for the not-for-profit society. There will be performances by local musicians Mohr, Jenny Lester and Juanita McIntyre, along with a raffle and 50/50 draw at the Old Church on Valentine’s Day beginning at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available at Mountain Eagle Books for $25 or $30 at the door.
All the proceeds go towards the society and will be used to sponsor a child in the program or to buy necessary therapeutic equipment.
For more information, visit the Facebook page Nickers.