Frequently Asked Questions

What is Equine Assisted Therapy?

Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) includes equine activities or an equine environment to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in persons with physical, social, cognitive and/or behavioural challenges. EAT is an effective alternative to traditional clinical settings, providing therapy on horseback in a safe, fun and inclusive environment. Because the gait of a horse is similar to that of the human stride, this particular therapy strengthens and supports the natural motion of the spine and pelvis. The rider also absorbs the body heat of the horse, which can also reduce muscle spasticity in the legs, back, neck and arms.

For many children and adults, therapeutic riding is one of the only physical activities available to them. For those who cannot walk, the horse becomes their feet—their vehicle of transport. Moreover, riders experience a connection to the horse that few sports or activities could hope to match.

Not only does EAT help build a healthy self-esteem by providing an activity in which riders can fully participate, it also teaches them listening and communication skills and aids in the development of personal boundaries.

PARDS is a certified therapeutic riding facility under CanTRA (Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association), which administers an internationally recognized instructor certification program. They train instructors to teach in therapeutic riding centers across the country and offer four levels of certification: Assistant Instructor, Intermediate Instructor, Instructor and CanTRA Coach.

PARDS educates its staff of instructors not only through CanTRA but through other recognized organizations such as Higher Trails (Equine Assisted Personal Development), Equine Canada (Rider Level Certifications) and the National Coaching Certification Program (Equine NNCP).

But the driving force behind the success of PARDS’ therapeutic riding program is the sure knowledge that horses heal and the fundamental belief that all people have the right to celebrate their abilities and enjoy a superb quality of life. At PARDS, individuals of all ages—from tots to seniors—are exposed to a sense of freedom and achievement.

Through the magical connection riders have with their horses, our youngest riders have found the motivation to say their first words, to form friendships with their fellow riders, to achieve motor coordination and to improve their balance, strength and overall physical well-being.

And adult riders have had the opportunity to relearn speech, motor control and social skills after a stroke or a brain injury. Adults with autism or developmental delays have been able to work on skills that allow them to be successfully employed within the community and lead independent lives.

What are the physical rehabilitative and therapeutic benefits?

As described, the motion of a horse’s walk creates the same movement patterns (3 dimensional, forward/backward, side-to-side and rotating) in a rider’s pelvis and torso as a normal human walking gait—it is the only known way to replicate this action. For this reason, riding can play a crucial role in normal muscular and balance developments because, while riding, the rider’s muscles are constantly responding to the movement of the horse. The horse’s swinging, repetitive movement improves balance, coordination, strength and muscle tone while also mobilizing the joints.

Paraplegic individuals as well as children with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, speech/language disorders, Spina Bifida, traumatic brain injuries or impaired coordination, hearing, communication and balance responses have been helped by our horses. And because horses have a variety of walking gaits and ranges of motion—just like humans—horses are selected to increase or decrease certain input for the rider in order to facilitate particular therapeutic goals.

What are the psychological and cognitive benefits?

Therapeutic riding offers emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive benefits, which have been documented but are often measured not by statistics but by the extraordinary changes that family, friends and caregivers have observed in their riders.

And truly, the transformation has to be seen to be believed. Sometimes just stroking a horse’s mane has nudged smiles and words from children who have been locked in years of silence. Often, the beaming smiles of joy on the faces of the riders say it all.

Because riders are interacting with their horse, the volunteers, and other riders during lessons, they begin to feel more at ease in social situations generally. Language skills and the ability to follow instructions are improved. The ability to organize sensory input is also improved. Attention span is increased and awareness of one’s external environment is heightened. These are just some of the most notable improvements.

The benefits of these improved behavioral and social skills carry over to their daily lives. Riding improves self-esteem, self-confidence and self-image. It also provides riders with a profound sense of accomplishment. The experience of movement, freed from assistive devices such as wheelchairs and walkers, offers undreamed of independence, freedom and control.

In summary, therapeutic riding is a holistic strategy that offers some amazing fringe benefits. Then combine measurable physical and cognitive results with an activity that also provides recreation in a natural setting…little wonder riders of all ages respond so enthusiastically.


How do I enroll in a program?

Individuals or their parents/guardians should complete a [registration form] and have a completed [Physician’s Referral form]. Once both forms have been received, PARDS will contact you to arrange a time for an assessment.


What does it cost?

There is a $20.00 fee for the rider assessment for therapeutic programs (first time riders, riders returning after an extended absence, riders whose diagnosis or goals have changed)

There is an annual program membership fee of $45.00 that must be received before taking part in the program

One-off memberships (summer camps, workshops, etc) or if you are participating for only one session – $15.00

Equine Assisted Therapeutic Programs – $200 per 10 week program session

Public Riding Programs – $210 per 6 week program session

Youth Leadership – $50 per 6 week session

Please contact the office for costs relating to workshops and birthday parties

If you wish to support PARDS with the purchase of a non-riding membership the cost is $20


Can individuals of all abilities participate in PARDS Programs?

Absolutely. PARDS offers numerous programs, including; public riding, youth leadership, workshops and summer camps. If you are unsure where you fit, please contact the office.


What qualifications do PARDS instructors have?

PARDS instructors are certified, or working towards certification with Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) and Equine National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). Instructors attend clinics, workshops and seminars frequently to remain current in the field of Equine Assisted Therapy. Instructors facilitating our Youth Leadership Program are certified under Higher Trails in Equine Assisted Personal Development.

All PARDS Instructors have current First Aid and CPR.

All PARDS staff has clean Criminal Record and Vulnerable Sector Record Checks.


Will I need special clothing to take part in PARDS Programs?

The safety of our clients is our priority. Riders must wear ASTM/SEI approved helmets. We recommend that clients have their own helmet, but we do have a small selection of sizes available to borrow. PARDS recommends proper riding footwear, with up to a 1’’ heel. PARDS has a wide selection of sizes available to borrow (please ensure you bring socks).


What is CanTRA?

Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) (link) was founded in 1980. CanTRA is a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of the horse. CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification.

CanTRA is the governing body of therapeutic riding in Canada. CanTRA member centres are inspected to ensure a high level of safety standards.


Why must each rider pay a PARDS Membership fee each year?

The membership fee covers CanTRA membership, liability and facility insurance costs, and Alberta Equestrian Federation membership for the centre.


What if I cannot afford the lesson fee?

PARDS is a charitable organization and participates in its own fundraising. The program is therefore not able to provide registration funding for clients. However, we do have partner organizations with specific requirements, which may be able to offer funding. It is important to PARDS that everyone is able to access our services regardless of financial circumstance. If you are experiencing difficulty meeting the registration fee requirements, please contact the office for more information at 780-538-3211. Additional information, including proof of financial need, may be required.


Are there any weight restrictions?

There may be weight restrictions for horseback riding depending on the horses available and the diagnosis of the rider. This is determined on a case by case basis.

Exceeding the weight limit does not preclude a client from participation. PARDS has a number of programs available, including cart driving, grooming and mechanical equicizer.


Who is eligible for lessons?

Therapeutic lessons are available to clients age 3 and up who have been diagnosed with physical/behavioural/social and/or cognitive challenges. Clients must provide a Physician’s Release Form.


When are lessons offered?

Therapeutic and public lessons run from September until May on a weekly basis.

Summer Camps run from June until August, one week per camp.


How can I volunteer?


Over 200 volunteers donate over 12,000 hours of time every year. PARDS has a number of ways for you to volunteer including directly in lessons or barn, Board or Committee opportunities, events and fundraising. Training clinics are provided for lesson volunteers, and no previous horse experience is necessary. Please check out our Volunteering page for more information.

How is the program funded?

PARDS does not receive on-going government support. Funds are raised through lesson fees, support from the community and various fundraising events.

PARDS has a number of sustainable fundraising programs including horse boarding, workshops, clinics, and public riding lessons.

Can I board my horse at PARDS?

Yes, PARDS has three options available for public boarding.

Indoor Full Board – $475 per month plus $50 membership per calendar year (plus GST)

Private Paddock Board – $400 per month plus $50 membership per calendar year (plus GST)

Pasture Board – $325 per month plus $50 membership per calendar year (plus GST)

Can I rent the facility?

There are a number of rental options available. Please contact the office to discuss your specific requirements.

How can I help support PARDS riders?

There are many ways to ensure our community continues to benefit from the programs at PARDS, including; Horse Sponsorships, Donations, Gifts in Kind, Work Bees, Horse Donations, Attend an Event. Please contact us for more information.