Making Miracles Happen – Healing Through Horses The amazing work of the Thunder Bay Therapeutic Riding Association

June 2020

When I asked Al Cheetham of the Thunder Bay Therapeutic Riding Association if there were any special stories he wanted to share with Bayview about the people and the horses at the farm, there was a long pause. “Do you have a few days?” he laughed.

After some thought he admitted there was one that stood out. A story about a young girl, Brynn Sinclair, who had been diagnosed with Infantile Progressive Congenital Scoliosis with Hypolistic/Hemivertebrae, a rare condition that develops before birth when one or more of the vertebrae in the spine don’t form completely.

The condition, and the need to wear a body cast during her infant years, prohibited Brynn from being able to do the many things parents take for granted with their children: roll over, sit up, stand, and walk.

But when Brynn came to the Therapeutic Riding Stable, wonderful things happened. First, she fell in love with Tim Bits, a miniature palomino horse, the colour of a glazed Tim Bit donut. Then, for the first time in her life, she felt the freedom of being able to move – without a wheelchair or a stroller. And then, most importantly, she was able to be herself. There was no one there to pity her, or let her cast define her. There were only supportive people who knew that with the right help, Brynn could do whatever any other girl could do. And that made her and her family very happy.

Then a miracle happened: Brynn walked. “I truly believe that horseback riding contributed to her ability to now walk and run like any little toddler her age,” her mom, Kim, wrote in a thank-you note to the Therapeutic Riding Stable. “And she is progressing well.”

Wow. What a story to warm you all over.

And there are more. Al then spoke about a young man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who had great difficulties socializing with people. When he came to the farm, Zack, a 26-year-old gelding, bonded with him instantly. “Horses know when someone is hurting,” Al said. “And they want to provide comfort, and they are experts in doing just that.”

The young man found solace in Zack and after spending time brushing and caring and working with this fine animal, things began to change. He became more like his old self and was able to socialize more. His parents told Al that the difference was nothing short of amazing.

And magical. Like the time when a young man, who had survived a horrific car accident, was told he would never walk without a cane but after two years of therapy he was able to throw his cane away. And the boy in a wheelchair who found confidence in being able to ride a 1000 lb animal and prove to his peers that he was just as capable as they were. And the young boy who wouldn’t look or talk to anyone, come out of his shell and totally embrace the riding experience – horse, cowboy hat, boots, and all.

“It is unbelievable the bond that is generated between a person and a horse,” Al says. “I’ve seen miracles happen and lives changed for the better. It’s what keeps me going.”

The association is run strictly by volunteers and overseen by a board comprised of ten people, including Al Cheetham. It relies primarily on several pancake breakfast fundraisers held throughout the year to cover the cost of keeping their seven horses. Due to the COVID pandemic, however, they haven’t been able to raise the $70,000 needed to maintain their horses for the year. Hay prices are climbing and there are always farrier and vet bills to cover.

If you would like to donate or help in any way with the Thunder Bay Therapeutic Riding Association you can contact them on their website, or call Al or Maureen at 472-5650. They’re a registered charity so you will receive a tax receipt.

With your donation brings smiles, miracles and magical transformations. And you can’t go wrong with that.

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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