This past Saturday the Hands on Horse Program, an initiative of the Ontario Harness Horse Association, visited the residents of the Neyaashiinigmiing Reserve near Wiarton, Ontario. The Chippewas of Nawash Health Centre hosted a meet and greet with three retired racehorses at Kikendaasogamig Elementary School.
Harry, a retired standardbred, interacted with over 40 first nations children and their parents. The residents were given the chance to interact with Harry and two retired thoroughbreds, Metonella and Bryn Mary provided by Lois Keays, owner of Hales Farm and founder of Ontario Retired Racehorse Program (ORRP). Paint was supplied to allow the children to paint the horses with their handprints and Harry geared up in cart and harness to take over 40 residents for a ride around the school’s track and field oval.
“The first nations people have experienced much generational trauma and talk therapy does not always work, this [interaction with horses] is a good, alternative healing therapy,” said Yvonne Corbiere, Manager of the Chippewas of Nawash Health Centre. “Indigenous populations around the world have a special healing relationship with horses, and a program like this is important to work to rebuild this relationship.”
“Today was wonderful to have these kids come and experience horses,” said Keays. “First Nations people are traditionally attuned to animal connections. Animals are depicted in dance, spirit guides and totems. With limited access, the value of these connections has been somewhat lost.”
This event was the initial introduction for a much larger project. Eventually a program will be developed to support 9 kids ages 8-13 who have been assessed as needing increased emotional support. These kids will be involved with horses on an ongoing basis as part of an alternative equine therapy program. The kids will learn basic horsemanship skills, responsibility through caring for a horse and emotion regulation skills as emotions are mirrored back to them through interactions with the horses.
“It was a privilege and honour to be part of this event and observe so many young children interacting with horses for the first time,” said Stacey Reinsma Coordinator of the Hands on Horses Program. “What Lois Keays and her team are working to develop captures the healing and therapeutic nature of horses that we sometimes take for granted.”
For photos and more information from the event visit the Hands On Horses Program Facebook page.