Jerzee Wasylnuk was told she’d never ride a horse, but she persevered and is now reaping the benefits.
Wasylnuk, who has cerebral palsy, a disorder that causes impaired movement and can affect muscle tone and posture, has seen great improvement since beginning participation in Manitoba Riding for the Disabled’s programs about a year ago.
"Physically, it’s helpful to her, stretching out her leg muscles," said Wasylnuk’s father, Jeff.
"She has some tone issues in her legs, so the pre-stretching and even sitting on the horse has done great wonders," added her mother, Jacquie. "It’s therapy without them knowing it’s therapy."
In addition to walking "about 10 times better" than when she first started in the program, Wasylnuk also learned plenty about her own determination.
"I’ve learned I just can’t accomplish a goal like that. I have to work for it. I worked, and my parents really showed a lot of support to help me get to my goals," said Wasylnuk, who also participates in hockey, sledge hockey, and swimming.
Jacquie explained she’s seen her daughter start from being stiff on the horse to being looser, and following the horse’s lead, which has helped contribute to her improved walking.
After being on the waiting list for approximately a year, Wasylnuk has participated in two 10-week sessions at West Wind Stables in Oak Bluff — a long but worthwhile drive from the family’s Transcona home. Each rider is limited to eight sessions in an attempt to allow more riders to participate, though Jacquie hopes to get onto the organization’s board at some point to help secure two extra sessions.
Wasylnuk was initially told by doctors she wouldn’t be able to sit up on a horse, but after getting the go-ahead, participated in an assessment and was accepted into the program.
"I was like ‘Wow. I’m can’t believe I’m doing this, because you said I couldn’t, and I am,’" she said, adding she wasn’t nervous to get on the horse for the first time because she knew they were friendly. "I’ve learned how to control my horse, how to stop it and use the reins better. I’ve learned how to keep my balance while it’s trotting."
Whenever possible, the program seeks to keep participants teamed up with the horses throughout their sessions, which allowed Wasylnuk to get comfortable with her horse, JoJo.
In addition to children who have cerebral palsy, the organization welcomes children dealing with conditions ranging from visual impairment to autism.
For more information, visit http://www.mrda.cc/.