Be safe and be kind, especially to animals. Merry Christmas from Ben and the Gentle Giant.
Ben is a boy with an affinity for animals. Liam is a 25-year-old Belgian quarter horse with Powell River Therapeutic Riding Association. His nickname is Gentle Giant; he is big and calm and likes kids. When the pair met through PRTRA’s riding program, it was obvious the two were meant to be together. The relationship is going into its second year and is still going strong; there’s a visible, loving bond between child and horse.
Ben was introduced to PRTRA three years ago through his elementary school principal, Jasmin Marshman. She thought Ben would benefit from PRTRA’s programs, the outdoor exercise and the calming companionship the horses provide. Riding a horse has so many benefits including developing muscle strength and endurance, improving posture, balance and coordination. It is also great for expanding social skills, aiding with communication and growing a child, or adult’s confidence. Ben’s mother Ocean readily agreed that Ben might benefit from a weekly ride. Ben was introduced to PRTRA staff, had his assessment and was signed up. When Ben first started riding, he was nervous to get on the back of a horse. So the PRTRA instructors wisely chose Tekida, a small Arab for Ben to ride. As his confidence grew and his horsemanship skills developed, Ben was introduced to Liam. It was quite a change and it was also love at first sight.
Liam is a pro at making everyone feel comfortable. He has lived on site at PRTRA grounds in Paradise Valley for ten years now and has provided up to ten rides a week for kids and adults who take part in PRTRA’s programs. Ben was eight when he first met Liam and when they stood side by side the young boy barely came up to the horse’s withers. Even now at 11 years of age, Ben is dwarfed by the big, gentle Liam, but he’s not at all afraid. He climbs on Liam’s back, whispers some words of encouragement into his ear and off they go. You can see Ben is comfortable up on Liam’s wide back. He settles in and moves with Liam’s rhythmic plodding, chatting to the volunteers. You can almost feel the tension dissolve with each hoof step and it is obvious that Ben loves Liam and trusts him completely.
Every Thursday morning, Ben arrives at the stable and gets geared up for his ride; helmet, belt, boots and gloves. Then, securely seated on Liam’s broad back, supported by side walkers and a horse handler, Ben and company take a slow, peaceful walk around PRTRA’s forested grounds. There are surprises along the path, two miniature cows, a colourful family of ducks lined up along a log and Ben’s favourite, the red and white striped Waldo.
Ben likes the regularity of meeting up with these woodland friends so when Waldo went missing earlier this year, it bothered him. For weeks, the familiar little fellow wasn’t popping his head out from some unexpected spot, but one day in late November Ben’s instructor Shannon alerted him. “Watch out for Waldo,” she said. It didn’t take long for Ben to find Waldo, he was hanging out with a giant butterfly in a fir tree just past the paddock. “There he is, I see him,” Ben called out, and laughed. It was good to hear, and it was obvious Ben was smiling, but no one saw it because of the masks.
While preparing for Ben’s ride at the PRTRA stables, all staff were masked up, distancing and using hand sanitizer. This time last year, no one imagined what November 2020 would look like, a volunteer said. For months, PRTRA was closed to the public and only this fall have their doors been open. During this time, Ben missed Liam and often came to the stables to see him and check on how he was doing. In September, when he was told he could rejoin the program, Ben was very happy. Happy to see Liam again and happy to go for his walks through the forest, even if he had to wear a mask.
Ben isn’t a person of many words but his energy and confidence exude a sense of well-being and contentment when he’s on Liam’s back. Riding a horse increases core body strength and Ben has become a stronger rider since starting the program, the instructor attested. As well, his love of animals gave him a connection to Liam that was reinforced weekly during his rides. Recently Ben was told he would be switching horses, upgrading to a livelier companion. He took the decision in stride, he’s feeling pretty confident now and ready for a new challenge.
Because this is the holiday season, it seemed fitting to have Ben give Liam a Merry Christmas surprise visit. PRTRA staff, all masked according to COVID protocol, lovingly decked Liam out in a fir and gold ribbon garland and Ben popped a pair of reindeer’s antlers onto Liam’s head. Then for a brief moment Ben pulled off his mask so this very special photo could be taken and we all got to see Ben’s magnificent smile. That smile says happy holidays everyone, stay safe and be kind, especially to animals.v
Everyone was wearing a mask except Liam.
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.