Therapeutic horseback riding organization Opening Gaits seeks new home

Click to play video: 'Charity changing lives at risk of closure' Charity changing lives at risk of closure
WATCH ABOVE: It's been in operation for nearly a decade and a half. Opening Gaits is a therapeutic riding association helping children and adults with disabilities. As Jill Croteau reports the organization is now homeless – Jun 28, 2016

A Calgary-based therapeutic riding organization that means so much to so many is looking for a new home.

Opening Gaits first opened its doors in 1998 and gives those with disabilities the chance to ride a horse, which brings many mental and physical benefits.

READ MORE: Equine therapy a growing trend in treating mental health issues 

After operating at the same barn for almost 16 years, Opening Gaits can no longer stay there. It is desperately trying to find a new location for its program.

“Unfortunately, we don’t fit into their mold and we were asked to leave,” Leona Messer, president of Opening Gaits, said. “It is bittersweet.”

One of the many benefits of horseback riding is that the motion of the horse mimics a human walking. Even if a rider is wheelchair-bound or unable to walk, their body still can go through the motions of walking. This is beneficial because it engages the body in a way that would not otherwise be possible and helps to build core strength.

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“The way a horse moves mimics our pelvis,” riding instructor Joy Jenson said. “It moves you like you’re walking, without needing to use that drive.”

Opening Gaits has a group of volunteers that comes out week after week to help in any way they can. This usually includes helping riders get on the horses, leading the horses and walking beside the rider to make sure they keep their balance and do not fall.

The riders look forward to the days they get to go to Opening Gaits. Many of them also have a profound impact on the instructors.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Jenson said. “I tell people that I get to see miracles every day.”

Opening Gaits is mostly funded by donors, which is how they are able to subsidize their riders. Their horses are borrowed and they do pay for board.

Currently, all of Opening Gaits’ equipment is in storage and the horses have all been returned to their owners. Those who run the organization are hopeful they will be able to find a new home but they fully comprehend the consequences of not being able to find one.

READ MORE: Equine therapy program for veterans hoping for government funding 

“Is there a possibility that we won’t find it [a new facility]?” Messer asked. “Absolutely. That part is hard to swallow.”
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The group is really hoping to find a new location to operate out of by September, as it is not operational in the summer.

Sheila Wilmot, whose daughter Maggie rides with Opening Gaits, is also hopeful a new facility will be found.

“It’s a freedom for some of our riders in [and out of] wheelchairs. Maggie is non-verbal. The smile comes through her eyes.”

If you think you might be able to help, or want more information about Opening Gaits, check out its website here.

Maggie, a client of Opening Gaits rides Fleck and is watched closely by her two side-walkers.
Maggie, a client of Opening Gaits rides Fleck and is watched closely by her two side-walkers. Kelsey Ferrill | Global News


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