The excitement was evident as a group of young people sat through a class on bullying at the Western Horsemanship Riding Clinic in Hobbema on Jan. 12. After the half-hour class, the kids rushed out of the room to the stalls to groom the horses and ride.
The clinic began last November and is operated with funds from the National Crime Prevention Strategy. The clinic work to improve participants' social skills as well as their basic riding skills. The young people learn everything from how to install or remove a halter and bridle, to how to build a comfortable relationship with a horse.
The children, between the ages of nine and 16, share five horses and three stalls between them at the Panee Memorial Agriplex building in Ermineskin. The clinic is held twice a week, with the first half-hour of each class dedicated to crime prevention and youth issues, including suicide, depression, bullying and peer pressure.
The riding clinic has had a lot of success, said Denise Montour manager of the Samson Youth Crisis Centre. The 15 students who take part in the clinic are a mixed group of experienced and inexperienced riders, she said.
Montour believes that riding horses makes kids aware that there is an other ways of spending time than doing drugs or being involved with alcohol or criminal activities.
"Even in the first riding class, you can see the physical appearance in them [change]. They become bright and confident because that is how they feel. You can see the change in their behavior as they overcome fears and begin to take risks. It's been a big learning experience for some of the children. We've had some bumps and bruises and a couple of the classes have been cancelled due to the weather, but nonetheless the classes are still going on," she said.
The clinic invites Elders to come in and lead cultural activities or offer advice and listen to the children. "By doing this they instill morals and principles in their lives."
Montour said the idea of combining the riding clinic with workshops on crime prevention came from her experiences as a teenager.
"I got into trouble between 14 and 15 years old and I believe that it was my being involved with the rodeo circuit and riding horses that helped me through that period in my life. It kept me from falling off the wayside," she said.
Montour said Hobbema would like to see horse riding events start to take place in the community once again.
"Hobbema was once on the map for rodeo events in Canada. We were once called the rodeo capital of Canada and this is one area that the Hobbema Agricultural Society is hoping to revive within the youth population.
"The age of technology has taken over a lot of the kids' time, so that they do not seem to have time to get involved in recreational activities anymore. Our theme for the crime prevention strategy is 'Going back to the basics,' because in reality that is what we now need to do," said Denise Montour.
Montour, who has her bachelor's degree in Indian social work through the First Nations University of Canada, comes from a family of 12. She is the third youngest. On Jan. 16 her parents celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary. "Fifty- six years is long time. They persevered. Who stays married that long anymore? My father, who is largely my mentor, ran the Samson Farm and Ranch. He was a rancher, a cowboy and an athlete who worked with many people in the province in the area of ranching and agriculture. He's always been my greatest support. My mother, herself, is a herbologist and I believe that it takes someone special to be at home with the kids and raise all of them. My father was a very good provider so my mom could stay at home and he still is. Both of them passed on the knowledge from my ancestors about maintaining and sustaining values and the sacred stories that were passed down for many generations," she said.
The graduation ceremony for the clinic will be held either at the end of March or the beginning of Aril, said Montour.
"We will be having a closing ceremony where the students will demonstrate their riding skills, as well as touch on what they've learned in the presentations. We are hoping that this project will be ongoing, providing that the funding is available," she said.