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Volunteering for a day of fun

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It was a shining moment for me--however fleeting it may have been.

My team was awesome Sunday afternoon as we thundered (well, maybe we didn’t reach the point of thundering but we were impressive nonetheless) through the bean bag toss on horseback at Trail’s End Riding Stable.

And me, the last of seven on my team, rolled across the finish line before the second rider on the other teams even got out of the starter’s gate.

Were we that good? Unfortunately, no. I was just instructing my teammates wrong.

After a summer of Wednesdays walking horses and assisting riders with the Northwestern Ontario Therapeutic Riding Association (NORTRA), Sunday was a chance for about a dozen volunteers to do some riding of their own.

About 40 people--therapeutic riders, volunteers and their families--gathered for the first-ever NORTRA "fun day."

"We’ve had appreciation of the volunteers before but never a fun day," noted Joyce Young, who runs NORTRA at her stables, adding it brought everyone together for a day of activities.

The afternoon started with games on horseback as volunteers led (pulled?) the horses as therapeutic riders tried their luck at the bean bag toss (throwing a stuffed toy into a barrel from the horse), the pony express (delivering mail from one point to another), and the cracker crunch (eating a cracker and whistling--without spitting cracker bits--before crossing the finish line).

The volunteers and family members also took their turns--with some "disqualified" for breaking the "no loping in the paddock" rule.

The day wrapped up with a potluck dinner.

This was a record year for NORTRA. Four new therapeutic riders started coming in from Atikokan, six from International Falls, as well as two new children from the Fort Frances area.

And that has Young planning to expand the adult therapeutic riders over two nights next year. But with that comes the need for more volunteers.

"I need 17 to 20," she said, explaining volunteers were trained how to be side-walkers first, then moved up to leading the horses.

Young first started the therapeutic riding program--which offers horseback riding to those with both physical and mental disabilities--12 years ago.

Then she just had three riders who rode free of charge with family helping out. Now she is a member of both the Ontario Therapeutic Riding Association and the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.

And the number of clients has jumped to 24, with riders paying $10 each time they ride--if they can afford it.

If not, Young admitted they don’t get charged.

"All I ask is for them to let me know ahead of time if they can’t pay," she said, with funds raised during the annual "Freedom Ride" covering that cost.

Seven horses are currently used for the therapeutic riding program, with three more up-and-coming.

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