Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm on March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm on March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff) Ruth Bartesko gives some love to Fanny the Shetland pony during an Equine Assisted Learning session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. Bartesko is one of several participants from the Victoria Brain Injury Society to take part in the new program. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Greater Victoria brain injury survivors harness power of equine connection

Humble Hooves, Heart Lake Farm and Victoria Brain Injury Society team up for new program

With a gentle sniff, kind eyes and flicker of her fuzzy ears, Fanny’s calm, inquisitive demeanour is infectious.

Fanny, a bay Shetland pony, is one of four equine participants in this Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm in Central Saanich. She’s led through a small obstacle course by her two handlers, who provide ample affection after she calmly follows their directions over the poles.

A partnership between the Victoria Brain Injury Society, Heart Lake Farm and Humbles Hooves – a Cobble Hill-based horse wellness and therapy rescue farm – EAL is a non-riding life skills program rooted in the healing power of equine connection.

Participants – brain injury survivors and their family, friends and supporters – are invited to work in teams of two, with one horse or pony, to tackle different activities.

“I think horses have a very unique way of communicating,” says Tammera Merkins, Humble Hooves owner and operator. “Because they’re prey animals, they mirror what’s going on around them, and so they kind of ask humans to show up in a certain way – to be calm or have leadership.”

READ ALSO: Tiny therapeutic horse makes for touching story

Joan Davy grooms Misty the pony during a Humble Hooves Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm March 8. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Merkins says participants have reported feeling a sense of calm from the horses and have grown more confident being around them. “We’re seeing these skills they’re learning here in the arena transfer over into their everyday lives.”

While grooming a horse named Gina, participant Joan Davy says that since her brain injury, light, sounds and sights can become overwhelming.

“Often with brain injury, words are … too much and so (I’m) learning to be with a being that is more about reading gestures and responses,” Davy says. “They are very sweet.”

She says isolation has been the norm for her – long before COVID-19.

“So I’m really grateful to have a new experience and probably the only social experience in months and months and months,” she says.

The session is the last in a series of workshops, but a 10-week program begins in April, available only to clients of the Victoria Brain Injury Society.

READ ALSO: Forward-thinking therapy at Saanich ranch

Brain injury survivors and their families partner up for an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) session at Heart Lake Farm. Operated by Humble Hooves, the program encourages communication and connection for participants. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Greater VictoriaHealthhorse

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cyclists cruised around Saanich at the 2017 Cycling Festival. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich scavenger hunt replaces annual Cycling Festival

Participants encouraged to ‘walk or roll’ to 20 secret sites, submit photo proof for prizes

The government map (as of April 22) showing vaccine availability doesn’t have any Saanich Peninsula pharmacies listed, but the situation is fluid, and many readers have already registered. (Province of B.C. screenshot)
Vaccine availability a fluid situation for Saanich Peninsula

Government site may not show pharmacies, but registering still an option

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

(Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria marathon clothing drive targets 10,000 pounds of clothing

The clothing drive runs Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 pm.

Volunteers with the Esquimalt Farmers Market will be on hand at Bullen Field to direct attendees and clarify public health protocols. The market runs Thursdays now through Sept. 16, from 4:30-7:30 p.m. (Facebook/Esquimalt Farmers Market)
Esquimalt Farmers Market continues tonight at Bullen Field

Award-winning market features farm-fresh products, food trucks, COVID-19 protocols for safety

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofinosafe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time up-keeping the yard? You may be unintentionally contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial: Victim left to conclude out-of-court settlement on the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander in death of John Dillon Brown continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Most Read