Centre teaches more than trotting

THEY may not be able to walk, but with a little help, they can gallop.

The North Shore Equestrian Centre offers therapeutic riding sessions and riding lessons by appointment throughout the week, and is planning to offer an open-door policy on Saturdays during the summer. Preference will be given to riders from the District of North Vancouver.

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Designed to improve core stability and increase leg strength, therapeutic riding has been helpful to a variety of riders, including kids with muscular dystrophy and seniors with post-polio syndrome, according to instructor Megan McDonald.

"The horse becomes their legs," McDonald says. "Being on a horse moves their muscles in the same way they need to be able to move them to walk normally."

McDonald has worked as a therapeutic instructor for the last seven years. After assessing a rider's range of motion and level of anxiety, McDonald attempts to find the perfect horse for each rider.

"Autistic riders tend to like really active, bouncy horses. That engages them more because they seek a lot of stimulation," she says. "Riders with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy really can't take a huge amount of movement to start with, so we need to match them with a smoother horse."

McDonald or another instructor leads riders on a trot with a pair of side-walkers. "We have two or three volunteers with many of our lessons," McDonald says.

After the rider has spent long enough in the saddle, McDonald judges when she can let go of the reins and watch the rider take control.

"They can control this giant animal. . . . Little kids that are able to steer this 1,200pound horse. It's an empowering feeling," she says.

Grooming the horse, putting on the bridle and saddle, and wiping everything down at the end of a lesson can also help with behaviour problems, according to McDonald.

"We really work to have kids transfer those skills from the barn to the home," McDonald says.

The North Shore Equestrian Centre is located on Lillooet Road near Monashee Drive. Young children can have a pony play date for $32, and novice riders can take a 45-minute lesson with a group for $58.

jshepherd@nsnews.com

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