The horses and team here at Swiftsure Ranch are lucky enough to have the ability to work with a broad spectrum of diagnosis. In a “normal” year, Swiftsure sees 110 participants each week. All of those participants get to ride at zero cost to them, thanks to our generous family of donors who support the work we do here at Swiftsure.
Recently we had the opportunity to focus on the lift load, a system designed to assist participants in wheelchairs up onto the back of a horse. The lift load isn’t highly noticeable to those in the main riding arena because of its location adjacent to the tack room. While it doesn’t take up a lot of room, it does play a large role in the programs we offer.
We put a few of our able-bodied friends in the lift load and in the saddle to show them how it works. To fully understand the experience, we not only had them wear masks, but we blindfolded them. The reason for the blindfold was to force them to fully trust the process and not use their bodies to “help” or “correct” what felt awkward. When they arrived, we sat them in a wheelchair to allow them to experience the process entirely. From there, we put the blindfold and helmet on. The helmet is a standard safety protocol for all participants. With all of those elements in play, we were ready to head up the ramp to the lift load. We should note that this process requires 4-5 staff members and/or volunteers for each participant using the lift.
Laura, who had only been on a horse once before, said: “Experiencing Swiftsure’s equine therapy as a participant opened my eyes to how caring and communicative the staff are when assisting. Despite being blindfolded, I felt completely confident and safe. I have a new appreciation for the work they do and the effectiveness of the therapy.”
Let’s join in on her experience. At the top of the ramp, the wheelchair turns and locks into position. The team of staff and volunteers get into place. Kristy secures the loading seat to the lift bar as it comes down. Once ready, Kristy cues for the horse to come into the loading area. From there, one staff member guides Laura’s legs over the horse, another runs the lift, another leads the horse, and one more holds her other leg into place once on horseback. Now that she’s in position on horseback, she cues the horse to move toward the arena. After entering the riding arena, Kristy guides her through some drills to activate her core, stretch her torso, and work on overall riding posture.
Candace, who also was there to try out this powerful tool for the ranch, had a similar experience and felt “while I was blindfolded for my full experience, I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. The team at Swiftsure goes above and beyond and knows what they’re doing, flawlessly. They guided me around the area with voice and touch, and I never felt unstable or uncomfortable on Henry. I felt relaxed and confident the entire time I was riding. I can see how this is very freeing for so many.”
For participants who are confined to a wheelchair or have difficulty walking, the gentle motion of a horse’s stride mimics the way our bodies move to walk closer than any other type of therapy. Not only does it stimulate nerves and get the blood flowing through the body, but it also frees their spirit in ways we can’t even imagine.
When our friend Nancy was put in the wheelchair with a blindfold, giving up control was very difficult. It’s nearly impossible to give in completely and let someone help you. Imagine how that feels when an accident or illness takes it from you without asking. “Not even for one moment did I feel scared, it was so liberating and for each minute I was forced to trust and “tune in” to my body and to the horse. Each of my guides (staff and volunteers) were 100 percent with me the whole time too. What an amazing experience. It really opened my eyes to what it takes for Swiftsure participants to enjoy something I take for granted all the time,” says Nancy. “Horses have always been a way to feed my soul, and I love that Swifture is able to give this to so many who need it.”
We want to know, have you ever had the opportunity to try a lift load system for horseback riding? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. If not, would you like to learn more? Email us by clicking here. Lastly, if you would like to contribute to Swiftsure and the impact they make annually, you can do so by clicking here.