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Hope Reins for children and adults



A number of area professionals recently had an opportunity to get an up close and personal introduction to Equine Assisted Therapy.

Alison Vandergragt, owner of Killaloe’s Vanderbrook Farm, welcomed representatives from Family and Children’s Services of Renfrew County, the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families, Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre, Madawaska Valley Association for Community Living and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police out of Kingston and parents, to a private Laurentian Valley farm owned by the Forbes family to learn about the Hope Reins Program.

Hope Reins, a not-for-profit organization, has the ability to provide programs to children and adults on the Autism Spectrum, with physical and developmental delays, and those facing addictions, those dealing with grief/loss/divorce issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, youth at risk or facing incarceration and much more.

The idea of exposing these professionals to the aspects of the program was to help them see the benefits of the therapy for their clients in the hopes of forming partnerships to provide programming. Vandergragt is open to working with the agencies to come up with programs that could meet the needs of their clients.

While Hope Reins involves horses, horsemanship is the secondary goal and sometimes not a goal at all. The primary focus of the program is to meet personal goals determined by the client, the client’s family, and sometimes the mental health professionals that work with the client. Goals are achieved by providing individualized programs that are designed based on the therapeutic needs and the client’s ability and can be individual, in a group, or involve the whole family.

The value of the programs lies for the most part, with the use of horses. The animals are excellent partners in undertaking the enormous task of broad-based teaching and personal healing, having to be and provide the mirror to what is going on inside, according to the Vanderbrook Farm website.

Some of the organizations in attendance have clients in the program, including the Phoenix Centre which partnered with Hope Reins in a three-month pilot project to provide Equine Assisted Therapy to twelve of it’s clients. The therapy sessions with their assigned therapists were taken out of the office and into the arena. All of the therapists noted progression, sometimes profoundly, with their clients.

Board chairwoman Laura Barnes had heard about the program and wanted to experience it for herself. While she doesn’t consider herself a horse person, after interacting with some of the horses through an activity, she gained an understanding of how the program could benefit people who have difficulty relating to other people.

She is interested in following up on how the ideas and behaviours learned through the program translate into human interaction, so it is something she intends to pursue through the Phoenix Centre board.

Laura Lacroix, a family counsellor with the PMFRC, was also intrigued by the program. Although she didn’t have any previous experience with horses, the animals seemed drawn to her in the initial exercise when the people entered the ring, but weren’t allowed to touch or speak to the horses. She along with Barnes were among the members of the group that volunteered for an activity where they had to create a jump and get a horse to go over it without talking to each other or the horse.

She attended the session as a member of the mental health team and she was curious to see what it was all about. She is new to the team and thought it would be a good way to network with others and learn about programs in the area.

She left the event with a great sense of what it is like to interact with the animals and felt there are kids and families involved with PMFRC that could benefit from the unique program.

Vandergragt was pleased with the range of agencies that turned for the event.

Aside from the impact the program has on the clients it also impacts the horses, according to Sabine Coulson, the representative for the Dale, Brenda and Michelle Forbes of Forbes Stables the host of the Pembroke programs.

Since the horses have been involved in the program Coulson has noticed a difference in their attitudes. They enjoy working with the children and they love the attention.

She said the Forbes love children and are thrilled to provide the facilities for the Hope Reins as it affords the family the opportunity to give back to their community.

Since its inception in 2011, Hope Reins has provided programming to approximately 50 children and adults. Many of our clients are on the Autism Spectrum, have developmental delays and even a child with spina bifida.

The programs take can take place as an ongoing weekly or bi-weekly basis, or as a ten or twelve-week program, again, based on individual or group needs. Vanderbrook Farm is available for programming six days a week.

On Nov. 6, Vandergragt will travel to Parliament Hill to present the Equine Assisted Therapy and Hope Reins to the National Defence Standing Committee on Ill and Injured Soldiers and how the program can help veterans suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

Twitter: @TPeplinskieOBS

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