Riding horses helps youths develop skills

Heather Latter

Despite the frosty temperatures Saturday, more than 35 youths from Seine River First Nation boarded a bus and headed to Running Horse Ranch, located in Miscampbell Township just west of Fort Frances, for the opportunity to ride horses and develop new skills.
The outing was part of a initiative called “GEN7” offered through Motivate Canada, a Canadian charitable organization that specializes in improving the lives of young people.
“Equine therapy hits home for a lot of our people because of the connection to horses. They are gentle and understanding, and we use that to teach leadership,” noted Kent Brown, a “messenger” of the GEN7 program, which aims to encourage aboriginal youth to live an active and healthy lifestyle through sport, physical activity, and other means.
He said the participating youths, aged five and up, learned about healing and respect.
“And for some it was their first time riding,” Brown said. “There were a few who were getting over some of their fears.”
“Horses mirror your mood,” echoed Darcy Whitecrow, a volunteer who helped initiate the activity.
“If you’re confident, then they’ll be confident.”
“I was thrilled,” enthused Rhonda Snowshoe, owner and operator of Running Horse Ranch.
 “Every time we did a trail ride and seeing the kids faces, they couldn’t get enough of those horses.”
She stressed her top priority always has been to give people an opportunity to ride.
“The kids—and even adults—on the reservation, a lot of them have never had the opportunity,” Snowshoe remarked.
“If we wouldn’t have had that on Saturday, who knows how long it would have been before they had a chance to ride?”
Snowshoe also believes the youths learned a lot from their day at the ranch.
“We have an awareness board where they pick a word of what they learned that day, and they learned everything from self-esteem and self-control to trust and respect,” she noted.
“There were so many words that they chose.
“And the ponies taught those lessons. Not anyone else but the ponies,” Snowshoe added.
“When you allow that to happen, you can stand back and just let the ponies do what they need to do.
“And that’s exactly what they delivered.”
She said the trail rides also stressed the importance of respect, humility, bravery, love, wisdom, truth, and honesty while teaching teamwork, confidence, humour, and listening.
Snowshoe has 25 horses on the ranch, with 12 ponies being used for riding. Another three are being trained and soon will be able to used for riding, too.
Saturday’s participants rode Lac La Croix Ponies and the Akhal-Teke sport horses on the trails.
“Everyone rode, and had the opportunity to understand and get to know the horses,”
Snowshoe said. “Topping off the day with a bonfire for roasting wieners and barbecuing hamburgers.
“The kids came out on such a cold day and the event was a success,” she enthused, adding the youths spent the day at the ranch and were reluctant to leave.
“It was a great thing for the children to experience,” echoed Whitecrow, noting they will be organizing return trips to Running Horse Ranch at a later date.
“Kathy Hare and Kent Brown [of Motivate Canada] deserve all the credit for making events such as this possible with all the support they have shown to our youth over the years,” he stressed.
Brown, a Canadian national champion boxer who lives in Winnipeg, said he’s been visiting Seine River First Nation six-eight times a year for the past six years through the GEN7 program.
“I’ve watched these kids grow up,” he remarked, adding he’s pleased to see some have become football stars.
“The idea is to activate youth through physical activity.”
Brown said the program also aims to help aboriginal youth to become leaders in their community.
“This was a huge teaching tool,” he said of the horse riding, noting it’s the first time they conducted an activity off the reserve.
“It’s certainly something we want to sustain,” Brown added.