Plea made to save Special Equestrians

A long-standing board member is pleading with the community to help keep a program for disabled people operating.

A long-standing board member is pleading with the community to help keep a program for disabled people operating.

Sylvia Johnson said the board of four had to make the tough decision to cancel the Central Alberta Special Equestrians in February due to lack of funding and volunteers.

“We hope it’s just temporary,” she said.

“But if we can’t get some board members and some financial support from the community, I’m afraid it’s going to die.”

The program, which started 26 years ago, provides individuals who have mental or physical disabilities with the opportunity to take horseback riding lessons.

This soothing activity has many benefits that include social interaction, cognitive tasks and physical activity, Johnson said.

Her son, Jeffrey, has been involved with the program for 24 years.

He was born with brain damage but riding helped him learn how to concentrate and socialize, she said.

The program has struggled to secure volunteers partly because there isn’t a strong parental base to depend on as most of the riders are adults.

Jeffrey is 40 and Johnson has been on the board for the past 10 years.

She said they desperately need board members with strong leadership skills that can be utilized to help co-ordinate the program and secure some funding.

Someone knowledgeable in grant writing is also wanted, she added.

A history in or understanding of equestrian activities is not required.

Johnson figures a board of at least 10 can better tackle the next issue — fundraising.

With such little manpower and time, the board had to cancel what would have been its fourth annual Hoofbeats to Heartprints Gala on April 16.

The event is CASE’s major fundraiser to help cover expenses.

CASE rents and boards its five horses at a facility 10 km east of Red Deer on Hwy 11 for $2,100 a month.

Donations have dwindled to more or less nothing in the past few years so Johnson said they have resorted to steadily increasing users fees.

She knows this approach will not be sustainable as many clients are on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH).

Clients are charged $205 for a six-week session.

CASE had about 65 riders in 2010 and most of them were repeat riders. Johnson assumed the cost turned some potential clients away.

In 2004, a board of 10 members helped with fundraising and about 150 riders went through the program, she said.

“I find that right now in the city there’s a lot of fundraising going on and most of it’s being directed towards the Ronald McDonald House,” Johnson said.

“The poor little guys like us, we’re kind of like on the back burner. Our programs are important, too.”

Anyone interested in helping out can call 403-348-7050. For more information, visit