Not long after Penny King and her husband sold their south Langley horse farm and moved to a new home they built on an acre in Surrey, they began to miss a life with horses.
“Our new home and property were really nice, but it just wasn’t enough. We missed caring for horses, and always having a project on the go,” said Penny.
An active member of the Soroptimist Club, she had a long history of volunteerism. One of the charities the club supports is Pacific Riding for Development Abilities (PRDA), whose great success helping riders of all ages and abilities is widely recognized.
And so, 17 years ago, Penny decided she could combine quality horse time and a passion for community service by volunteering at PRDA in Langley. She has since become, according to Langley PRDA head instructor Michelle Meacher, “a mainstay of our program.”
Penny describes her work at PRDA as extremely interesting, and a lot of fun.
“I figure I get back a thousand times more than I give. That’s why, after 17 years, I still love doing it,” said Penny.
Penny had already witnessed the positive effect the family horses had on her daughter who, as an adult, once thanked her parents for giving her a wonderful childhood on the farm. Penny had also seen the therapeutic effect horses had on the disadvantaged young girls who participated in an equine-based program sponsored by the Soroptimist Club.
She planned to just help at first with barn chores at PRDA, but was swiftly recruited to be a sidewalker, helping twice a week to physically support both adult and very young riders.
What struck her at the beginning of her career of service was the huge range of PRDA clients. Some cannot speak, some cannot hear or see, and others cannot sit in a saddle without the support of two sidewalkers. Still others have become accomplished dressage competitors.
“The clients, the horses and the volunteers all come with issues. That’s part of the fun and the challenge.”
Penny has seen her share of miracles, accomplished after “milllions” of baby steps in the arena.
“One little boy did nothing but scream during every ride. After the first 10-week session, the screaming had been replaced by smiles and confidence. I’ve seen autistic kids who didn’t speak a word when they came and now say ‘walk on’ or ‘whoa.’ The core muscle strength that riding develops has helped kids to walk with braces instead of being confined to a wheelchair.
“One boy I worked with had almost no muscle tone. He was like spaghetti in the saddle, and has gradually gained the strength to ride unassisted.”
Now in her mid-60s, Penny says the friendships she has made with other volunteers and the great rewards of helping clients to achieve miracles, both large and small, has helped to keep her feeling young, and to appreciate life.
“I see what the parents of some of these kids deal with every minute of every day. The half hour their child is riding is sometimes the only time they have to read a book, or to relax. In the face of so much courage and optimism, how could I complain about minor aches or pains?”
Penny and her husband eventually moved back to Langley, and currently live on an acreage with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.
“Our daughter told us she wanted to give her kids the wonderful childhood she had, a life on a farm with horses.”
For more information on PRDA, go to www.prda.ca.
Anne Patterson is a Langley writer and horse owner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.