North Country Ride Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Using Horseback Riding as Therapy to Overcome Challenges
On May 7, North Country Ride is hosting a derby gala at Buffalo House Junction in Duluth.
ESKO, Minnesota — It’s been 40 years since North Country Ride at Esko has helped—or sabotaged—the special-needs population with therapeutic riding. At the beginning of May, they celebrate with a Derby Gala.
“Well, sometimes we like the little games and the races, those are my favorite,” said Barrett Chenevert, 7.5, standing next to her favorite horse, Duke.
Since 1982, North Country Ride has helped thousands of people like Barrett overcome physical, cognitive, emotional, mental and behavioral challenges. “I like to say that we will accept everyone from 4 to 104 years old,” said general manager Tamy Horyza.
An animal weighing hundreds of pounds with powerful legs and hooves may seem intimidating at first, but horses are actually the perfect partners.
“The reason we use horses is because they are prey,” Horyza said. “So they can smell things up to a mile away.”
“So when you’re in their space, they can sense what’s going on inside you, and that helps us know how to work with the client we’re working with,” she said.
The nonprofit’s technique is to work with the 100 to 120 customers who pass each year to make them feel comfortable riding and to communicate with the horse and trainers. “Sometimes when I wake up I’m like ‘oh wow, that’s really high,’ but I get used to it,” Barrett said.
For some it’s a longer journey than for others. “We have clients who are afraid of the horse at first and will stay behind,” Horyza said.
“Touching, spending time with the horse, grooming it, teaching parts of the horse – all of this can be done in the first week,” she said. “But as soon as the client is comfortable, we put him on the horse.”
The whole process, from caring for the horse to riding it, helps them bond with their clients – which develops too.
“We could tell them to go a certain direction with the horse, to use their left hand, their right hand,” the general manager said. “A lot of times it’s for the purpose of building core strength, teaching them to follow instructions. Many of our riders just need help learning to follow directions.
Chenevert has been with North Country Ride for 4 years.
The 7.5-year-old was born with congenital heart disease, rushing into surgery at just 56 hours old.
According to his mother Jessica, patients like him also face neurodevelopmental issues, such as delayed articulation of speech.
“The first time I had to ride a horse, I was able to ride Duke,” Barrett explained, “and then we started communicating with each other because we rode a lot. But now he’s a bit too slow!
Barrett started working with another younger, livelier horse, but still says hello to Duke. “Yeah but he will always be my favorite.”
He loved every minute with Duke, the horses and the staff, Jessica said, and it sped up his processing time and increased his coordination, verbal and non-verbal skills.
“My horses help me with my communication, and think faster, help me become a good leader and boost my confidence!” he said proudly, Duke looking behind him waiting for his friend.
At a derby gala May 7 at Buffalo House Junction in Duluth, North Country ride plans to celebrate 40 years of accomplishments like Barrett’s with a silent auction, dinner and derby race. The tickets are available here.