Teen Riding High Through Adaptive Sports

Published Friday, June, 17, 2005

A recent winner of the Leisure and Recreation Award at the Municipal’s Second Annual Accessibility Awards, the  North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association works with people who have disabilities to provide adaptive horseback riding.  The NFTRA has one hundred riders between the ages of three and sixty-three and of varying degrees of disability.

Tyson Aubin is a fourteen year old who has been going to the NFTRA for six years and is very enthusiastic when telling of the fun of his weekly practices.  Tyson has Cerebral Palsy, a brain disorder which affects the motor neurons in the brain, which in turn affects coordination and muscle strength.  Therapeutic riding is a great sport for those with cerebral palsy, and other disabilities, because it helps to improve muscle tone and strength, as well as balance, coordination, and posture.

When Tyson first started riding, at the age of three, he had a back rider, a person who would sit behind him on the horse and hold him up.  As his skills improved he started to use a saddle that had handle bars so that he could sit on the horse by himself, but still be stable and balanced.  This saddle is just one of the many types of adaptive equipment that the NFTRA uses.  Tyson now balances himself on the horse and has side walkers who will help if he begins to slip.

Tyson’s skills are now at the level where he is able to compete in the BC Disability Games this summer in Naniamo.  He will be competing in two types of competition: the obstacle course and equitation.  The obstacle course is a series of obstacles that the rider must successfully ride through.  Equitation is  a competitive sport that tests the rider’s skills in controlling the  the horse’s paces, and maintaining ease of it’s movements.  The rider commands the horse to follow a variety of instructions, such as walking forwards, backwards, or turning in circles. Each competitor is classified and competes with individuals of comparable disabilities.

This will be Tyson’s first experience at the BC Disability Games.  He has competed in several local competitions and is eager to travel to Naniamo to compete.  Competing in the games in Naniamo is made even more exciting by the fact that a large part of his family lives there and will be able to watch him.  Tyson loves having an audience and was happy to show me how he practices.  He rode with pride and it was obvious that he was having a lot of fun.

Therapeutic riding helps to improve the control of a rider’s body through increased range of motion of joints, stretching of tight or spastic muscles, improved circulation and respiration, and increased hand-eye coordination.  It also increases concentration, self confidence, motivation, patience, and empathy.  The riders’ connect with the horses and create a relationship of interdependence.

Tyson does not appear to need increased self-confidence or motivation.  He gives his all in whatever he happens to be doing.  His enthusiasm is contagious and he encourages others to go beyond what they think they can do and try something new, such as therapeutic riding.

The North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association has twelve riders competing in this summer’s BC Disability Games.  Their organization relies on donations, sponsors, and fundraising to exist.  They also need volunteers to help the program continue. There are many ways that individuals and companies can help to keep this organization going.  For more information contact them at 604.462.7786 or visit their web site at nftra@shaw.ca.