The Horses for Hope Program, put on by Hope Mission Wetaskiwin, helps build a youth’s character while improving their horsemanship skills in a safe environment.
The program is now going into its seventh year and sees a variety of kids come out to Bethany Homes to take part either during school, after school or in the summer for their day camp programs.
“We partner with schools in town and they find for us a couple of their students they think would benefit from the program,” said Justin Jorstad, program manager at Bethany Homes in Wetaskiwin.
“During the program half the time they spend physically on the horse learning horsemanship and life skills through riding the horses and the other half of the program is spent learning what we call horse science.”
The horse science component consists of things like how to properly care for the horse and how to care for the tack.
“For us specifically with horses we find that there is a significant relationship of trust between the rider and the horse and there’s also just a lot of life lessons that are tied to learning to ride a horse,” said Jorstad.
He said horses can benefit some of the kids who as an example have a harder time with high energy behavior or what schools may find as disruptive behavior.
“All of a sudden you put this kid on a thousand pound animal that you have to learn to control yourself, you have to learn to not be as energetic and you have to learn to really listen because there are certain instructions you need to give the horse to make the horse listen to you.”
He added that on the flip side of that, horses can also help kids who are more shy or reserved and haven’t quite developed confidence in themselves to control the animal to do some pretty amazing things.
Currently, Hope Mission partners with around 10 schools in Wetaskiwin and one school in Camrose.
And it’s not just horses that are part of the program. Jorstad said 45 minutes involve the horse, but kids also take part in archery, hiking and various aspects of gardening.
This summer Hope Mission saw almost 200 kids come through for the program over seven weeks.
“It’s been a great summer. I’m very thankful for the safety we’ve had and it’s been wonderful to see all the kids come through again, especially after the ups and downs over the past couple of years with COVID,” said Jorstad.
“For us a big part of the program, along with the horses, is that we really believe in the power of human mentors —mature adult relationships in kids’ lives.”
The program is now done for the summer and will start up again in October.