A Foothills non-profit is looking for support from the community.

Opening Gaits Therapeutic Riding Society in De Winton has provided therapeutic riding services for people with physical disabilities, cognitive disorders, and other conditions for 25 years.

Executive Director Lesley Ann Shire says horses' emotional awareness and sensitivity make them very well suited to adapt to the needs of riders, and they're therefore able to provide a wide range of therapeutic benefits.

"It stimulates and improves their core strength, balance, and coordination, as well, our riders improve their memory, focus, mental processing, and responsiveness by learning new routines and following instructions by our instructors who are therapeutically qualified to teach our riders with various disabilities. We teach in the form of games, social environments or in a class. We also teach one on one with a very good success rate."

Due to their longevity, they've been able to support riders into adulthood.

"We're very lucky that we can allow our young riders to develop into our adult riders and stay with the program, which we have, we've had people who have been here for over 24 years, so that speaks volumes as to the quality of the program and the enjoyment they get out of it."

The courses are offered at a 75 per cent discount, largely due to donations and a collection of dedicated volunteers, some of whom are practicum students from Mount Royal University or the University of Calgary.

Volunteers are responsible for, among other things, grooming the horses, leading them, and walking alongside riders who can't balance on their own.

Since COVID, however, Shire says sponsorships and donations have declined, while expenses have increased.

"The board at the ranches has gone up, hay is incredibly expensive these days, feed, farrier, and veterinary, all those that we provide for eight to ten horses is costing an awful lot of money."

Despite high demand to the point of having to establish a waiting list, she fears they may have to decrease class sizes or even cease operations.

"We're being recognized, all therapeutic riding is being recognized by the medical profession, and there's a huge increase in children and adults being diagnosed with autism to the point where we could have classes just for autistic riders. These young children, they really enjoy the riding. There's no pressure, we lead the horse so they don't have to fear that the horse is going to do anything unusual. The fact that we could have to close down when we've got a waiting list is why we're really reaching out to people."

They've launched a GoFundMe campaign, which can be found on their website, along with other information about the organization.