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CTRA head coach Lisa Pink ropes national award for working with special riders
Seeing a glow of self confidence on faces of challenged riders is the biggest reward for horse instructor Lisa Pink.
Still, the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association head coach was stoked to recently receive national honours with the Andrea Gillies Award for Outstanding Instructor.
"We're all proud of what we do — the award was a surprise," Pink said of her Gillies prize from the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.
She took the salute in stride.
"You tend to just keep carrying on. I just thought it was the best pat on the back; you feel you're doing the best thing."
So does CTRA's staff, riders and their families connected to the celebrated facility at Providence Farm.
"I know CTRA's one of the top facilities in Canada, and we've had that for a long time," said Pink, 46, who became a horse person at age four.
"It's because of our coaching staff; we educate ourselves and want to stay on top of things — we're all proud of what we do."
Pink's done horse work at CTRA for some 26 years; 15 as head coach.
"I originally volunteered when (CTRA boss) Jane James wanted to start the program.
"I volunteered one of my horses and me for a couple of hours a week. I left for a bit because I was competing," the Altamont Stables owner said.
"Jane asked me to be part of an exam and she roped me in."
Pink progressed to various certified-instructor exams during the past two decades.
"I came to the program with coaching creditation for able-bodied (folks)."
She later wrote exams for certification as a CanTRA coach.
"I've been given the title 'coach' — it's one above instructor."
But teaching is merely part of giving an inner boost to CTRA riders, spanning special kids to seniors.
"It's the interaction with the horse, it's a high interaction, whether they're on the horse or not," the international show-jumper said.
"There's the social aspect of it as well; the mobility of being on a horse. A lot of these people are always dictated to about whether they can or can't do something — in a chair, they're looking up at people; on a horse, their disability is unrecognizable."
But riders recognize a sense of control, she said, "as opposed to someone else controlling them."
"Now they're up looking down at us."
Benefits include muscle strengthening and normalization, she explained
An average CTRA program, and its stable of a dozen mounts, can see 85 students a week, depending on the weather.
"Progression can be quite slow, but when there's a progression, small or big, it's so rewarding," she said. "It's huge self confidence for the person who has progressed."
Pink gave a hint of her hard-won horse sense.
"The horse pays attention to the student through body language.
"Some students don't speak. It's all to do with body language, and that's how the horse responds: 'Whoa, wait, go.'
"It's gratifying when the student sees results, and becomes very proud of themselves."
CTRA is always looking for volunteers and folks wishing to instruct, sponsor a horse or gear, or donations for the program's many costs. (Call 250-746-1028.)
Meanwhile, Pink pushes on with her pony pupils.
"I'm proud to keep it going; it's for the love of it," she said.