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New program connects seniors with horses for mental health

Seniors Centre Without Walls organization trying out a new approach to improving the lives of seniors.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM — Ronda Wedhorn, executive director of Saskatchewan's Seniors Centre Without Walls organization since 2020, will be trying out a new approach to improving the lives of local seniors with a pilot project titled Equines and Elders - Nurtured by Nature.

The program is part of Bar 5 Intergenerational Programs, a Moose Jaw non-profit Wedhorn has founded. Wedhorn is a registered social worker whose advocacy for inclusion, arts and crafts, and aging in place was inspired by her mother's journey through the stages of dementia. Wedhorn was able to keep her mother at home, where nature and her animals brought comfort and reassurance.

"This is the first program that Bar 5 has done, and we got a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP), which enabled us to run this pilot," Wedhorn explained. "If we get lots of people signing up and coming out, then hopefully we'll be able to keep this going and we'll add more classes."

Equines and Elders is essentially a field trip program out to Wedhorn's farm, where participants will engage with nature in a rustic, relaxing environment.

"So, we have Chris [Magowan-Lawrence], who is a facilitator with over 30 years experience working with dementia and mental health, and she'll be our main facilitator, and then I'll be the horse [and pony] handler, and we have other staff and volunteers that will be here assisting the seniors," Wedhorn said. "Chris also sings and has a band, so music will be a large part of this program. ... And we're having a St. John's Ambulance volunteer come out with her therapy dog."

There are five initial dates for the program, each with a different theme:

  • July 31 - Horses and Nature is simple time out at the barn to share stories, enjoy the outdoors, interact with the animals, and listen to music
  • August 7 - Mindfulness Through Music is a mindfulness class with musical accompaniment by "Chrissy's Country Band" featuring Chris and Brian Lawrence, Boyd Sjogren, and Sid Huntley
  • August 14 - Hands on the Pony activities, including art with Shilo Cairney, gardening, and grooming the horse or pony
  • August 28 - Generalized anxiety discussion with the use of movement, horses, and music
  • September 11 - 'Giddy Up and Whoa' facilitated by Karla Rasmussen from the Western Development Museum to learn about horses and horse body language

"We just really want to get people sharing their stories and engaging with what's around them, talking to each other, and having a safe place to come make new friends," Wedhorn said.

Participants should register two weeks in advance to give the team an idea of numbers. Registration is by calling, not texting, Ronda at 306-631-4357, or emailing Activities and recreation directors at local long-term care homes are encouraged to contact Wedhorn to discuss options for their residents.

The cost is $45 per person. Those with a combined income under $1,600 can attend for free thanks to the NHSP grant. Sessions are 30 to 45 minutes long, from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. and from 1:15 to 2 p.m.

Free transportation to the farm, located about 15 minutes south of Moose Jaw, is available from Allbility Transportation Service by calling 306-630-8850.