North Country Ride Celebrates 40th Year Using Horseback Riding as Therapy for Challenges
On May 7th North Country Ride is holding a Derby Gala at the Buffalo House Junction in Duluth.
ESKO, Minn.- It’s been 40 years that North Country Ride in Esko has lent a helping hand — or hoof — to the special needs population with therapeutic horseback riding. In early May, they’re celebrating with a Derby Gala.
“Well sometimes we do like little games and races, those are my favorite,” said 7.5-year-old Barrett Chenevert, standing next to his favorite horse, Duke.
Since 1982, North Country Ride has helped thousands like Barrett with, physical, cognitive, emotional, mental, and behavioral challenges. “I like to say we will accept everybody from 4 to 104,” Executive Director Tamy Horyza said.
An animal weighing hundreds of pounds with powerful legs and hooves might sound intimidating at first, but horses are actually the perfect partners.
“The reason we use horses is because they’re prey animals,” said Horyza. “So they can sense things up to a mile away.”
“So when you’re in their space they can sense what’s going on in you, and it helps us to know how to work with the client we’re working with,” she said.
The nonprofit’s technique is working with the 100-120 clients that come through each year to get them comfortable riding, and communicating with the horse and trainers. “Sometimes when I get up I’m like, ‘oh wow, this is really high,’ but I get used to it,” said Barrett.
For some, that is a longer journey than for others. “We do have clients that are afraid of the horse at first and will stand back,” Horyza said.
“Touching, spending time with the horse, grooming, teaching parts of the horse — that can all be done in the first week,” she said. “But as soon as the client is comfortable we do get them on the horse.”
The whole process, from caring for the horse to riding it, helps them bond with their clients — who develop too.
“We might tell them to go a certain direction with the horse, to use their left hand, right hand,” said the Executive Director. “A lot of times it’s for the purpose of building core strength, teaching them to follow directions. A lot of our riders just need some help in learning how to follow directions.”
Chenevert has been with North Country Ride for the past 4 years.
The 7.5-year-old was born with congenital heart disease, rushing into surgery at just 56 hours old.
According to his mother Jessica, patients like him also face neurodevelopmental challenges, like speech articulation delay.
“The first time when I had to ride horses I got to ride Duke,” explained Barrett,”and then we got like communication to each other because we rided a lot. But now he’s a little too slow!”
Barrett has started working with another younger, more spry horse, but always says hi to Duke. “Yeah but he’s always going to be my favorite.”
He’s loved every minute with Duke, the horses, and the staff, Jessica said, and it’s sped up his processing time and increased his coordination, verbal and nonverbal skills.
“My horses help me with my communication, and think faster, helps me become a good leader, and builds up my confidence!” he said proudly, Duke watching behind him waiting for his friend.
At a Derby Gala on May 7th at the Buffalo House Junction in Duluth, North Country Ride plans to celebrate 40 years of success stories like Barrett’s with a silent auction, dinner, and a derby run. FOX 21’s Dan Hanger will be a co-emcee. Tickets are available here.