Have you ever stood beside a horse that is 16 hands high? Or, braver yet, sat upon a horse that is 16 hands tall? A horse's height is measured in 'hands' which is a measuring unit of 4 inches. The horse is measured from the ground to the highest point of the withers. Buddy, is one of the six horses at Powell River Therapeutic Riding Association (PRTRA). He works with adults and children. He’s a gentle Appaloosa and one of PRTRA’s biggest horses. At 16 hands tall, Buddy is enough of a horse to make an adult hesitate but Jacob Neath, a young teenager and regular rider at PRTRA, is neither fazed nor concerned. Every Wednesday morning, he climbs on Buddy’s back and they spend half an hour together out on the trails that meander through the PRTRA grounds. “Buddy is a great horse,” he said. “He’s nice and gentle.”
Jacob is just one of many children and adults who attend daily and weekly classes at PRTRA’s riding arenas for exercise and fun. They all come to the programs with different experiences and challenges. But, the one thing they have in common is they all start out slowly. The experienced trainers at PRTRA know how daunting horses can be to newcomers. It is not uncommon for first time riders to admit they are afraid of horses, but each mare and gelding chosen for PRTRA’s riding program is a proven, gentle steed, which helps foster confidence and dispel fear.
Jacob started riding when he was only four years old. Over the past 11 years, he has ridden five different horses, graduating onto larger and more challenging horses as he’s grown up. His longest relationship was with Peppi and he really liked that horse. Now a teenager, he’s been riding Buddy for just over two years. “He’s my best horse,” he said with a solid nod. “I always look forward to riding Buddy.”
Last Wednesday, Jacob was at the stables early. He’s been attending PRTRA for so long that everyone knows him; he’s their “all weather” rider as nothing daunts him. “Rain, snow, I don’t mind it,” he said. He arrives properly attired with riding helmet, gloves and the right foot wear. “Boots are important because they keep your feet safe,” he said. Buddy is saddled and led into the indoor arena by the volunteers. Buddy sees Jacob and nickers. Jacob gives Buddy’s nose a stroke and deftly climbs up and onto his back without a concern. Being on horse back makes him feel good, he says from the saddle. “I feel competent and empowered.”
After a leisurely turn around the indoor arena, Jacob and Buddy meet up with another horse and rider and together the group heads out onto the pathways that surround PRTRA grounds. Each rider usually has one to three volunteers making sure the rider is firmly seated and not in any danger. When Jacob started riding, he had several volunteers helping him but now he only has one horse handler. He’s no longer a novice. He knows what he is doing and he is in charge. “I say “whoa” to make Buddy stop,” he says while demonstrating. “And I say “walk-on” to get him to move.” Again, he demonstrates. Buddy, all 16 hands high, moves at his command.
According to Jacob’s dad, Chris, horses are not the only animals Jacob loves and dotes on. At home, not far from PRTRA in Paradise Valley, Jacob’s family has an acreage. He hopes to have a horse, one day. Meanwhile he has some steady companionship with Henry, his great pyrenees, and Penelope, his pure white cat. “But I am still hoping to get my own horse one day,” he said.
Upon their return to the indoor arena, head instructor Shannon has some games ready for the boys and horses to play together. Jacob is keenly interested; he says he likes this game. “It’s the one where you get to count your horses’ movements,” he said. “It’s a challenge for me to do better than last time.”
After his ride, Chris is waiting to take him home. Jacob is happy with his day’s accomplishments. With his own horse on the horizon and Buddy to rely on every Wednesday, Jacob is satisfied, for now.
“I’m really proud of Jacob,” Chris said. “And it pleases me so much that he loves horses as much as I do.” Maybe that’s why Jacob is pretty confident his family will be boasting their own horse one day, real soon. Until then, the family has decided to take Buddy and Liam for the summer; they will feed them and enjoy their company, a perfect way to get ready to own their own horses.
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.