“Meet it and beat it,” is the mantra Heather Dyble has used since she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis twenty-seven years ago. It has served this gutsy woman well. Despite her debilitating disease, using grit and determination, she has not only found ways to halt the deterioration of some of her motor functions, but also to improve them. Sometimes she needs a little extra help.
At first she tried different exercises, including Tai Chi, but her balance continued to spiral downwards. She would not give up. At that time, she walked with two canes or pushed a wheelchair, which she refused to use in the conventional manner.
Eight years ago, a physiotherapist at an MS support group meeting suggested Heather try therapeutic riding. Equine movement is multidimensional. It is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing trunk strength, control, balance, building overall postural strength, endurance, addressing weight bearing and motor issues.
Every week since then Heather has ridden a series of different horses. In the indoor arena she walks up a gentle ramp until she is high enough to mount the horse. A volunteer leads the horse and two more volunteers walk on either side to support Heather. Once settled in place, Heather tells the horse to “walk on” to where the riding instructor performs a safety check on the tack and ensures Heather’s posture is correct.
Heather and two other riders and their teams ride around the Therapeutic Riding arena to warm up while the instructor watches to be sure everyone is comfortable. Heather has tried several different saddles, but the most effective is a sheepskin. The warmth of the horse and its rhythmic movements help relax her tight muscles so she is better able to strengthen her core and thighs.
Outside the Therapeutic Riding arena the team rides along the quiet, winding forest trails lined with mosses and ferns, smelling the fresh air and the cedar and hemlock boughs on the towering trees. It takes a half hour to circle the property which at different times is used by the Powell River Trail Riders Equine Club, Farmers Market, and Archery Club, so there is much to look at. Although mostly flat, some trails go up and down gentle slopes so Heather is constantly correcting her posture.
All this has definitely been worth the effort. Heather’s gait has improved enough that at home she walks unaided. This is a great freedom!
Heather credits therapeutic riding with much of her success. “I really appreciate, respect and admire the efforts of the staff and committed volunteers managing and directing the program,” she said. “I am determined to restore my balance.”
Heather Dyble’s success is but one of many achieved by the Powell River Therapeutic Riding Association’s programs. Riders with physically emotional, social, and learning challenges receive multiple benefits. It is an empowering form of therapy.
In addition to the Adult Riding Program, of which Heather is one of fifteen plus participants, the Powell River Riding Association serves more than 60 riders each week, from Preschool to Grade 12.
As a side-walker for my daughter Rebecca I’m able to watch her ride Liam on a weekly basis and each time she rides, I am filled with such gratitude! I’m thankful for the joy of watching Rebecca’s smile as she towers above me mounted on such a grand horse. I’m so grateful for all the staff and volunteers at Powell River Therapeutic Riding Association who make it possible for Rebecca to participate. I am extremely appreciative of all the individuals, businesses and organizations that support PRTRA through their financial contributions and donations. But I’m most grateful for Liam.
Liam is a magnificent horse to look at, but it’s his spirit that dazzles me the most. Walking beside him, it would be easy to be intimidated by his size and strength as he carries my precious daughter on his back. But his gentle presence is incredibly calming and he makes it possible for me to relax and enjoy Rebecca’s experience.
Rebecca does not use words to communicate, but her pleasure is obvious from her smiles and laughter when she rides Liam. Due to the nature of her disability, Rebecca can often seem “lost” and disconnected from what is happening around her. When she is riding Liam she is calm, very focused and aware. She has become such a confident rider now that she often looks around, appearing to take in the beauty of the trees along the trail. There are very few physical activities Rebecca is able or willing to
participate in. Her physical position on Liam and her body’s motions throughout the ride give her opportunities for movement she would not have in any other area of her life.
Without Liam, I’m not sure Rebecca would be able to ride. What a gift to be able to have this experience in my daughter’s life.
PRTRA has six “equine therapists” who are the backbone of our therapy program. These horses are chosen for their gentle characteristics and tolerance for the work they are doing. They are a big part of our program and must be carefully cared for to ensure we can continue to provide our important service to the community. If you would like to donate towards the care of these special horses, please click above.