We all gathered in the main stable: volunteers, kids, parents, and staff members. Volunteers asked questions. Kids ran about joyfully, carrying colorful coats and lunch bags. The parents toured the grounds with interest. Goats pushed stubbornly through the frenzy searching for snacks.
It was the first day of KTRA Spring Break Kid's Camp. The morning was chilly and dry. Above the grounds, weak sunlight was pushing apart low, grey clouds, promising a warm day ahead. Horses ate hay in the pastures. Little birds chattered noisily in the surrounding leafy trees. The mud around the stable sucked at our boots as we all walked in.
Inside the stable it was dim and smelled of straw and tack. The stalls were slowly filling up with horses of all different breeds and colors. The air was full of excitement.
The staff had been preparing for days, revising plans as more kids signed up for camp at the last minute. We all wanted badly to make camp fun and memorable. We wanted things to run seamlessly for our twelve camp kids. The day had finally arrived!
The volume and energy grew around us.
“Go bring in horses Max, Sandy, and Gracie”, the volunteers were instructed.
“I will grab Max!” one said brightly.
“I love working with Sandy.” said another, heading out toward the bridles.
“I will get Gracie’s tack!” a third one shouted from the tack room.
Little hands tugged at our coats. Wide, sparkling faces looked up.
“Where do I put my lunch box?”
“What horse will I be riding?”
“My dad put pepperoni in my lunch!”
The staff exchanged determined smiles. We would have to flex and communicate; be patient and fun. This camp was going to roll along smoothly, steered by our twelve, spirited little riders. Everyone was looking forward to getting our three day camp underway and it was clear we had an enthusiastic, vibrant group.
As the morning progressed, we staff found our groove, each manning our stations: Riding, Stable Management, and Crafts. Already, there were great things happening!
Craft Leader (Shannon) - “My glue had frozen and thawed. I had tubs of useless, ruined glue so could not do the craft I had planned out. The kids quickly came to my rescue. They excitedly figured out how to get the ruined glue into balloons to make stress squeezers! They continued throughout camp to use their vivid imaginations to make many unique creations.”
Volunteer Coordinator (Crystal) - "As the kids arrived I found myself sizing them up hoping I had the right horses picked out for the size of each rider as we really only had the experience levels offered on their registration forms. And usually that can be a little exaggerated. Haha! One pony ride and a few visits with a relative’s horse and they are experts and “READY TO GO FAST!”
Everyone wanted to ride first! But we had to break the kids up into groups and with a little oohing and ahhing… the first group got fitted for helmets and some put on some borrowed boots and they were off to the arena.
Everyone hopped on confidently. Then the horses started walking and WHOA! Everyone got a little humbled. However, they showed NO FEAR! I started off with some very basics and eased their young minds. Even had them feeling a little empowered as they could control their horses.
My goal for the three short days I had (actually three hours!!!) was to have all riders progress from being led around the arena to trotting around the arena unclipped and on their own!
On day three it was so rewarding to see each rider trot by with a huge smile across their face and squealing with delight!
As the first lesson came to an end all the kids groaned and reluctantly hopped off the horses. I took a deep breath and did it all again with the next group.
Executive Director (Ashley) – “"Camp is always an exciting time here at KTRA. It is neat to see campers with little to no horse experience arrive on day one and see them grow over only three days and leave camp confident with some horse skills under their belts. The key to our camps is our leadership team working so closely together and remaining adjustable and flexible with any situations that may arise. Spring Break Camp 2018 was a success; the campers even asked to do crafts again on the same day and that never happens!"
By the second day, the horses were donning braids and ribbons. Friendships were being made and the campers were choosing their favorite horses. The craft room was covered with drying works of art and the kids were learning riding and stable management skills. Even the smallest campers were lifting up horse hooves to pick them clean! We noticed the older kids were helping the younger ones out with all of their activities. And despite the overnight rain, the day was sunny and warm!
To conclude, Spring Break Camp turned out to be a huge success! Not only due to the planning that went into it, but also to the joyful, creative little riders who led the way with kindness toward their camp buddies and stable mates.
These kids dove into the dirt with exuberance. They embraced riding challenges with interest, created art out of various materials, and cared for their horses with tenderness.
We talked to four kids during the very last station. They were in the art room, gathered around a messy table, all singing in unison to the radio as they crafted. We asked them some questions…
Q So what was your favorite part of camp?
· Art! I had so much fun creating stuff.
· I jumped a horse!
· My favorite thing was making new friends.
· Meeting my horse, Sandy!
Q What were the most challenging parts of camp?
* Getting to know everybody.
* Trying to meet new people.
* Getting used to my horse’s gait.
* Making friends.
Q What did you learn?
· How to hold reigns and go faster and slower.
· How to jump!
· How to lunge a mini horse!
· I learned ‘two point’!
Q What was the funniest thing that happened?
· When one girl tried to steal another girl’s boot!
· We had a lot of funniest moments!
· Pretending to be horses jumping over the jumps!
· When horses trotted to the jump and then stopped and walked over it!
When asked if they wanted to come to camp again, all four campers gave an exuberant ‘YES!’
KTRA would like to thank everyone who came together to make this camp possible. A special thank you to our fantastic campers! We hope to see everyone back together soon!
Ezekiel SiJohn is an employee at KTRA! He is also an excellent writer! Read his gripping story about his horse, Talus, below. Don't forget to like, share, or leave a comment!
I didn't even know her name.
She was just a big bay mare in a tiny stall, standing caked in her own feces. Nobody had touched her or cleaned her stall for quite some time. She always showed the whites of her eyes.
Another horse had run her through a barbed-wire fence so she had a horrible knotty lump of scar tissue covering one of her hind cannon bones. Nobody had bothered to treat it. It was left to get infected. She was given to me because she was presumably 'dangerous', 'she would kill you if you turned your back', and she was 'not worth the time or money to do anything with'.
My choices were a.) take this horse I knew nothing about, or b.) watch her go to auction. I couldn't bear what would happen to this wild-eyed mare with the bones and scars.
I didn't even know her name.
She was being fed scarcely, and what she was fed was moldy, or rotten, or straw. All her bones jutted out and her coat was dull. Her neck and shoulders were so thin that her blanket hung off her. I'd seen her beaten. I wanted to get her out of there and somewhere safe.
After months of battling colic and vet bills, I got a bill of sale and could legally move her. What a relief it was to have her somewhere safe!
It dawned on me that she was a Thoroughbred, and that she would have a tattoo in her lip if she had ever been registered with the Jockey Club. I looked, and found that she was indeed. I searched her through the database, and it was from there I could start to piece together who she was and where she was from.
Her name is Talus Ridge. She was born March 14th, 2009. That made her 3, turning 4 the coming year. I found her owners’ and breeders’ names, her old racing videos and stats, and finally I knew her name.
Through chatting with her breeders, who have known her all her life, I got to know about Talus' past and a bit about her cheeky personality. She has always been bold, opinionated, and at times even bossy. She is a total diva. She was treated well all her life and enjoyed her job at the racetrack. It was a series of very unfortunate mistakes that led her to the dark place I found her in.
I was finally making a breakthrough with her, after she had gained some weight and had time to recover emotionally from the trauma she had been through. Then she somehow got that nasty lump of scar tissue on her injured leg hooked in a fence and de-gloved her leg to the bone. The injury took almost a year to heal, and during that time I questioned my sanity. My mare was frustrated, and so was I.
I didn't blame her for her behaviour or her reaction to pain, but there were many nights I left the barn crying because I thought that she would never trust me, and feeling so much fear that I had made a mistake. I feared there was no possible way I could help this mare.
I don't know how but I persevered and pushed through. It was not until my third year of owning Talus that I started to ride her. I knew she was broke to ride before even racing; her knowledge was fairly well-rounded. I could have done things faster, but I didn't want to push her. Her eyes had so much trauma, so many ghosts. I did not want a relationship based on fear. So I took my time, and went at Talus' pace. I was judged harshly for this and have been told many times that I am wasting her potential by not having her in a program or in the show ring.
The truth is, this horse has healed me more than I have healed her. Her presence in my life truly is a miracle. I am thankful every day that she found me. I am convinced she found me at a time in my life where I needed to be taught some valuable lessons.
Talus has taught me so much about myself and about life. I am constantly given challenges by her; she pushes me to be a better rider, a more calm and focused person, and has given me confidence in myself and as a leader. I have learned so much mindfulness from this sensitive girl; so much about letting go of the past and the importance of living in the moment.
I am so thankful that she (and I) have found a home at KTRA, where we are accepted and never judged for who we are. It is a place where we can grow at our own pace; a place where we can be in the moment and heal our past together.
Ashley Sudds is the Executive Director for KTRA. She is a busy, blonde young woman with a big job on her hands! I did a Q & A with her and here's what I found out:
Q Ashley, what led to your career with therapeutic riding?
A I had been working an office job in customer service for 10 years and was tired of the same old thing and staring at a computer screen for 8hrs a day. I started googling jobs with horses and I came upon the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) and thought, 'what a unique opportunity to work with horses and help people'.
So I registered to start my training with them and connected with PRDA in Langley. There I found my CanTRA mentor, Michelle, and she offered me a teaching position to gain some experience. It was on Tuesdays starting at 3:30pm and so I asked my office job if I could leave early on Tuesdays to go and teach and they loved the idea of therapeutic riding and supported my request and so it began.
Q So how did you get to be Executive Director for KTRA?
A In 2013 my fiance (now hubby) and I wanted to move up to Kamloops. He is originally from Clearwater and we have always preferred the country over the big city. I grew up on the coast and we lived in North Vancouver before moving to Kamloops. I really didn't want to find the same line of work in Kamloops and wanted to pursue being a therapeutic riding instructor so I researched and found that there was a therapeutic riding centre in Kamloops and contacted them to see if they had a position available.
At first all they had was a barn manager position that wasn't going to be full-time and so I contemplated it and was thinking that maybe I could do that and find some other work.
When we headed up for Christmas in Clearwater we stopped in Kamloops to meet the program director at the time and she offered me a new full-time position as Session Coordinator. I gratefully accepted even though my husband hadn't found work yet and we hadn't given notice at our current jobs on the coast but I was so excited. We both gave our one month notice and moved up to Kamloops in Feb 2014.
On my second day of work the program director had to go on emergency mat-leave leaving our small staff of 3 to figure things out. I naturally took KTRA under my wing and saw a lot of potential for KTRA to grow. In October 2014 the board offered me the newly-created role of Assistant Manager and then in September 2015 I became Executive Director.
Q Why do you continue to do this challenging type of work?
A The work is demanding, challenging and sometimes 24/7. But, seeing riders really benefit from the therapy they are receiving, smiling with confidence growing, and seeing the horses happy and enjoying their jobs is why I do it.
Q Do you have your own horses as well?
A I was very fortunate to move to Kamloops with my first horse I had been riding for years but never owned my first horse. His name is Milo and he is a Morgan/TB gelding. I love Dressage but he loves jumping better so we tried Eventing for the first time up here and have been having lots of fun.
I also have two other horses now, Levi and Catniss. Levi was donated to KTRA. We decided to re-home him but then he was leased back to us and has had a valuable roll in our Youth At-Risk program. His owner had to move to Terrace and couldn't take him with her and offered him to me and I graciously accepted. We did our first Dressage show together last year and came home with a 1st place ribbon.
Levi still participates in our YAR program and the youth just gravitate to him; he is a gentle giant. Catniss is my newest horse. She is a 10-year-old TB mare and I hope to do some Eventing with her this year.
Q So outside of your busy work schedule what do you enjoy doing?
A Apart from horses, I just really like being outside. Camping is one of my favorite things to do. My fiance and I got married outside in Pritchard at Whiskey River Ranch in September 2014. We also really like to travel. I have been to Korea, Cuba, Turkey, Greece and we are hoping to go to Nepal to hike to Everest Base Camp within the next 5 years.
What was your favorite part of our Q & A? I love the part where Ashley was so passionate about therapeutic riding that she accepted her job here in Kamloops before any other aspects of her life were secure! How inspiring!
We will be showcasing Milo, Levi, and Catniss in upcoming blogs!
I hope you are enjoying our blog posts, please leave your comments below and share this article to support KTRA.
It was a dark, icy day in December when I went to the riding center to shovel poop for a few hours. It was my second tour of poop duty and the task was simple, except for the slippery skim of ice across the pastures. Pull a sled, fill with poop, dump onto poop pile, repeat.
"You can work with Ezekiel today," I was told. I followed the pointing finger to a field with a person in it who was working without stopping, puffing frosty breath into the still air. My thrift store snow pants whisked noisily as I made my way to the field, stealthily squeezing my puffy outfit between the barbed wires without getting snagged.
"Hey! Ezekiel?" I shouted and my voice rang loud and clear. The person stopped scooping and looked up, showing red cheeks and a big smile, black toque on his head. We approached one another.
The field was flat with clumps of small, bare, woody trees. Horses stood peacefully around us, their coats thick and warm, their hot breath visible. Every crunch of snow beneath our boots cracked the silence. The air smelled of snow and horses.
"I'm working with you today!" We shook mittens. Ezekiel's blue eyes were kind and spirited. He bent immediately back to the task at hand. He was small but powerful. I watched his strong legs moving swiftly as we hauled the loaded sled to the dumping section. It didn't take long before the young man started talking.
He told me he had been working for KTRA for six months. He had arrived at the center with a horse, Talus, whom he had rescued from a dire situation. His life was unsettled in all kinds of ways, but he and his horse had found a place at the center, for which he was incredibly grateful.
Talus had been through a rough experience, and so had Ezekiel. Both were in need of healing. Both human and horse found exercise, fresh air, and a loving atmosphere at KTRA.
"It helps to be outside working hard", he told me, a horse nosing his hand looking for treats. He reached up and scratched the horse behind its ears; they touched noses. I had given up trying to remember all of the horse's names, but Ezekiel knew them.
"This one is Trigger!" A big smile spread across his face.
Ezekiel told me fascinating stories about his wife, and his personal journey with gender identification. He and his wife joined me in making a CBC radio clip about their story. You can hear it at: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/daybreak-kamloops/episode/15528347
Talus' harrowing story will be featured in an upcoming blog!
You can meet Ezekiel and Talus at Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Center!
What would you do if you if you found a frightened goat living alone on a river bank? One small goat, far from its herd, bones showing, and terrified of humans?
Well, for the first two weeks I would cross the large field she lived beside to bring her food and water. It was summer, so very hot and dry. The goat would be found hiding in an abandoned tent, her little face staring out on constant alert.
As I approached through the long grass she would dart, fleeing into the thickets.
In time, she accepted my presence and food, but was virtually untouchable. She would keep her distance as she ate, watching my every move. I could sit quietly, admiring her fuzzy brown body, large floppy ears, and cute, tufty tail, but I couldn't catch her. And every time I visited her I worried I would find her remains torn up by coyotes.
I called the staff at KTRA for help. To my relief and elation the word 'YES' came back through the phone:
'YES we will figure out how to save her.'
'YES we will bring her to KTRA.'
'YES we will do our very best.'
Yet the question hovered unspoken: will the goat heal and improve enough to live at a therapeutic riding center?
Some way, somehow, the skinny, scared goat was caught and transported to KTRA to join the friendly animals there. She was named 'Chicklet' due to her large teeth! The staff sent me photos of her first day with her new family; the other goats greeted her with sniffs and kisses!
It was fall by the time I saw Chicklet in her new home. The riding center was bright yellow with turning leaves and waving grasses. It was bustling with horses and riders. I entered the main stable in search of Chicklet. I expected her to see me and bolt.
She didn't run up demanding pets like the other goats, but she didn't flee. She stood, relaxed, and sized me up. She was chubby and calm with a healthy coat. I called to her gently, extending my hand. She retreated slowly, then pranced off with her stable mates. It was a good start.
Chicklet is adored by staff, clients, and volunteers! She is an acrobat and entertainer! She is bouncy, sweet, and loved by her whole dynamic family.
Chicklet found her forever home despite the odds stacked against her. She is a fuzzy testament to love and hope. You can visit Chicklet at KTRA!