For Lynn Dunkley, it had been 10 long years since she had sat in a saddle, astride a horse. She missed it. She was an avid rider before her crippling accident in 2002.
However, when she saw a poster in her doctor’s office for Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activities Program Society (CHAAPS) she wrote down the email address and vowed to contact them.
“I really missed riding,” she said.
“There’s much more to riding than just being on a horse – there’s a connection with the animal.”
In email correspondence with CHAAPS’ Danielle Frothinger, Dunkley knew they had to determine her level of ability.
“I believe I was the first adult, in a wheelchair, who sincerely wanted to ride,” she said.
For CHAAPS, they needed to figure out the logistics of getting Dunkley on the horse.
“They certainly seemed up for the challenge,” she said.
With the doctor’s okay and the forms filled out, CHAAPS set about figuring what was needed.
CHAAPS volunteers and professionals first devised a platform level with the height of the horse. Then a test mount was constructed using a fixed barrel with a saddle, which they named a chaapaloosa.
“I went out to see the setup and was very excited to be there around horses again.”
Volunteers then figured out how to move Dunkley from her chair to the horse, with the assistance of and demonstration by, Dunkley’s husband, who showed them the standing pivot transfer method.
It’s important to know that Dunkley has body sensations only chest line and higher, so guiding the horse depended strictly on use of the reins.
“The first few times on the horse I had a death grip on the saddle horn,” she said with a laugh.
Her first steed was an old rodeo horse named Tommy, who was more than 15 hands high.
Dunkley has nothing but praise for the five volunteers who assist her every time she rides.
“Without those volunteers I wouldn’t be riding,” she said.
And volunteers don’t need to be classic horse people, they can be anyone with a desire to be involved with this very special therapeutic riding program.
Dunkley now rides a Percheron draft horse named Porqui whose first career was as a pack horse before being donated to the CHAAPS program.
She’s very broad in the back and that has some physical benefits for Dunkley. Being taller than Tommy did present some challenges for Dunkley in getting on the horse.
Although the majority of her riding is done in the arena at Pen-Y-Bryn farm, Dunkley has riden outside the arena on Porqui about four times, but her goal is to ride the trails.
“So far, each time I ride outside the arena, I gain more confidence but without lower body signals there’s the potential for losing balance and falling, so my instructor, Edie Ferris, is very cautious about next steps.”
Dunkley said perhaps the most amazing aspect to her return to riding was regarding her chronic pain.
“I have chronic neurological pain all the time but on the horse I have no pain,” she said.
“That’s at least four hours a week pain-free.”
The long term benefits for Dunkley include she continues to be relatively fit but its the thought of riding again that helps her through some tough times of the year.
“Winters are hard, however preparing for riding pushes me out of the dark, depressing mental state the season brings. I find myself getting back to the gym in anticipation of riding again.”
On April 29, Dunkley will be back in the saddle again.
She couldn’t say enough great things about the dedicated volunteers she’s encountered with the program and encourages anyone interested in helping with the therapeutic riding to consider the upcoming orientation session April 8 at CNC, 6:30 p.m. For information visit the CHAAPS Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I volunteer with CHAAPS, helping with the administration side and the Facebook page,” she said.
“Right now we’re on the hunt for volunteers to help with various programs. There’s no horse skills required, just a desire to help with the programs.
“It’s very rewarding.”