Junior cowboy takes the reins

Quesnel CHAAPS program helps autistic boy through theraputic riding

The CHAAPS theraputic riding program has made a big difference in Josh Rigier's life.

He carefully checks out the helmets, looking for the one he remembers, the one that fits. This is just the first of many steps nine-year-old Josh Regier completes before climbing into the saddle for his theraputic riding lesson with the CHAAPS program.

CHAAPS instructor Terry Nichols walks Josh through the multiple tasks, guiding him to the right choices and praising his small successes.

Josh is a high-functioning autistic with attention deficit and epilepsy.

His mother Lisa said they had never considered theraputic riding, but then again she also said they’d never heard of it before North Cariboo Christian school staff suggested it for Josh.

“With Josh’s unique set of challenges, group activities like swimming lessons or soccer weren’t a good fit,” Lisa said.

“We didn’t know about theraputic riding, but it would never have occurred to us. We trust our school and they’ve had great experiences with children who have blossomed with the programs, so we thought why not give it a try.”

She admitted Josh was nervous.

Terry said each participant in the program is unique and that certainly applies to Josh.

“Josh’s issues are about self-confidence, being assertive and verbalizing,” she said.

“He needs his voice to handle the horse. We can tailor the program to encourage verbalization.”

As Josh methodically proceeds through his checklist on the whiteboard in the tack room, Terry patiently waits for him to process each request, then carry it out.

He never misses a step and eventually Terry and Josh are standing beside Susie, a big dappled grey. Josh is required to find the right brush and demonstrate he know how to use it. A job he completes in his slow, methodical way.

Terry admits it takes a lot of patience to allow the child to succeed, but that’s part of the program.

“We have high expectations.”

Dave Frothinger has been a volunteer with the CHAAPS program from the beginning and has worked with Josh from the beginning.

“They learn to do it by themselves,” he said.

“It’s amazing how much they can do.”

Josh remembers that first time as exciting.

“I wasn’t afraid,” he said.

He added he is very proud of his riding now.

“I didn’t think I would ride, horses are pretty shy creatures.”

CHAAPS chair Danielle Frothinger remembers Josh as a shy boy who didn’t make eye contact and wasn’t interested in theraputic riding.

“As time progressed, something enthralled him and I know cowboy Dave factored in that,” she said.

Josh is now quite comfortable with the program and even a change in horses (Goldie is now retired) didn’t phase the little cowboy.

Susie is a new horse for Josh, he was very used to Goldie, the first horse he rode.

“About three or four weeks into the program, Josh was more engaged, he was more calm in the classroom and more relaxed in stressful situations,” his mother said.

It was quite a remarkable change. And he couldn’t stop talking about his horse Goldie.”

Josh said Susie is a pretty good horse too.

As Terry and Josh move to the arena with Dave leading Susie, each time they move around the horse, Josh gently puts his hand on Susie, talking softly and calling her by name.

Susie doesn’t flinch and stands perfectly still as Josh executes the procedure for mounting her.

Dave said the horse reacts to the child, but the horse needs to know what the rider wants and that has been quite a lesson for Josh to learn.

Terry said speaking up and communicating with the horse is outside Josh’s comfort zone but he’s learning.

“It’s a fine line as to where to step in,” she said.

“They’re often very proud when they succeed outside their comfort zone.”

Josh puts Susie through her paces with the patient guidance of instructor Terry. At each instruction, she encourages Josh to use his body and his voice to let Susie know what he expects.

He handles the reins, uses his legs and speaks to the horse. Susie responds.

“I’m pretty proud of this young man,” Dave said.

“He was pretty shy but he’s overcoming that, he talks a lot more.”

The old cowboy speaks to Josh after the lesson asking him if he’s now a cowboy too.

“Almost a cowboy,” Josh responds.

Dave tells Josh, “you’re my friend and partner.”

Josh smiles and thanks Dave.

Lisa said Josh will continue with the CHAAPS  program and they plan to put Josh in the day camps offered this summer.

“I’m excited to see his growth, he’s going into Grade 5 and CHAAPS has made such a difference to his success,” she said.

“And someday I’d like to see him go back to CHAAPS and give back for all the wonderful things he’s gained himself.

“I can’t say enough about the volunteers with the program. They get nothing out of it except the joy of seeing the children succeed.

“It’s a form of love they show these children; they really get behind them.”

Josh wrote a little book about how he feels about CHAAPS, the volunteers, instructors and his successes.

Dave features prominently in the endearing little book.

“Dave is a cowboy who works at CHAAPS. He is wonderful, because cowboys are cool.”

Josh is just one of many special needs clients who benefit from the CHAAPS program.

For information on the CHAAPS program or how to become a volunteer contact Danielle at CHAAPS 250-747-2416.

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