Chilliwack Hospice Society partners with Freedom Reins Equine Connections to provide therapeutic sessions for bereaved children and youth in the local community

Throughout the year as part of our children’s and youth programming at Chilliwack Hospice Society, we partner with Freedom Reins Equine Connections to facilitate therapeutic interactions between horses and some of our youngest bereavement clients.

“With hospice groups, our goal is remember, express feelings for the deceased loved one, and establish a sense of well-being,” says Franny Hills, Child and Youth Program Manager. “We accomplish this through the feeling of freedom and fun with horses.”

Each session begins with a welcome from Dora Isaak, owner of Freedom Reins, followed by introductions from those participating which include mentioning who their deceased loved one is. Participants are then paired with trained volunteers and led to the stables where, in an act of remembrance, participants are asked to paint on the horse’s body an activity they did with the deceased. Children are encouraged to express their feelings as they paint and to talk about their loved one with the horse or the accompanying volunteer.

Before preparing to ride, each child is given a heart sticker on which they write the name of the deceased and place it wherever they like such as the saddle. With one-to-one support of volunteers, children are assisted in leading the horse while walking alongside, mounting and dismounting, and a guided ride in the arena. Riding the horse gives children a sense of accomplishment and freedom.

The horses at Freedom Reins have a sensitivity to the needs of children which makes them especially suited for connecting with those who are grieving. Through these special interactions, children learn about respect, trust, assertiveness, teamwork, and patience. As a result, participants gain self-confidence and noticeably change as they move through their grief.

During the most recent session held April 9, through thunder and rain both horses and people remained calm and waited out the storm together until the sunshine broke over Yarrow and riding could proceed.

“There’s something really special about Dora’s ranch,” Hills says. “It breaks down barriers and allow us to form deeper connections with the kids as well.”

In addition to these equine connections, Chilliwack Hospice Society will be hosting a one-day Horse Whisperer Children’s Grief Camp in mid-June. The annual program has been cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions the past two years. For more information about these and other children’s and youth bereavement programs at Chilliwack Hospice Society, please contact Franny Hills at (604) 795-4660 or visit www.chilliwackhospice.org