JULY 28, 2017 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | 21
Erin dressage rider overcomes bad luck, two hip surgeries to pursue Olympic dream BY OLIVIA RUTT
ERIN - Having not one, but two hip surgeries isn’t stopping Summer McEwan from pursuing her dream of competing with Canada’s dressage team in the Olympics. McEwan started riding horses when she was eight years old. Now 36, she rides and coaches all over Wellington County. For many years, she has dreamed of competing in dressage at the Olympic level, but a diagnosis of femoral acetabular impingement (FAI) meant stepping out of the saddle. FAI is a condition caused by extra bone growth in the hip joint. Movement can cause the bones to impinge on the cartilage, leading to friction and pain, especially
in athletes. McEwan said the hip flexion of sitting in a saddle irritated her hip joint. Two and a half years ago, McEwan underwent surgery on her right hip. She explained it is more intensive than a complete hip replacement. About three and a half months later, she was riding again, feeling great. “It really sucked that I had to have surgery, at the same time all the physiotherapy I had to go through, I was in physio for eight months after surgery and several months prior to surgery,” she said. “It brings this amazing body awareness so when I got back in the saddle again, I was so aware and able to control my body that I actually felt better than I had before,
which was really cool.” McEwan, who grew up near Coburg, has been riding competitively for a number of years. She found dressage to be her sport of choice when she realized eventing wasn’t
jumping, I loathed cross country, it terrifies me,” said McEwan. Eventually, McEwan said she found she was looking forward to the dressage shows more than the others.
“I love my horses, I enjoy being around them, this is the reason I do it.” - SUMMER MCEWAN
for her. Eventing includes show jumping, cross country and dressage, and is a common beginning point for many riders starting out in pony club. “I actually loved show
“It suits my personality type; it’s a very focused sport, it’s sort of ballet, yoga, Pilates … so a lot of body awareness,” she said. “I tend to be quite A-type in personality and so I’m drawn to and always looking
for perfection, and this sport is about that.” She said she feels the deepest connection with her horse when she is riding dressage. “Because you’re so involved ... you listen for a response, you try to figure out what the horse is telling you about what you’ve just done, why it’s hard, why it’s easy, alter your course a little bit to help the horse understand what is required from them,” she said. “I love my horses, I enjoy being around them, this is the reason I do it.” She began working with her coach and mentor Nancy MacLachlan when she was nine. “She’s been a big influence in my life. I was very lucky to have her,” she said.
Eventually, McEwan became MacLachlan’s working student then assistant trainer before going off on her own. “She was really generous with her time and she always made sure I had opportunities and horses to ride,” McEwan said. She explained she has had a lot of bad luck with her horses over the years. One had a brain tumor that led to the development of founder, a debilitating foot condition. In 2007, McEwan declared for the Canadian Pan Am team with a horse given to her by MacLachlan. However the horse was injured after losing its footing at the barn. Another horse colicked CONTINUED > PAGE 23
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22 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | JULY 28, 2017
Rockwood woman offers equine program for first responders and military personnel BY JAIME MYSLIK
ROCKWOOD – “The horses don’t judge, when I say this I don’t mean this in an unkind way, they don’t care who you are,” said Anne Porteous, owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Healing Centre in Rockwood. “They don’t care if you’re a doctor, they just don’t care. “You’re a human.” Porteous, an Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certified facilitator, uses horses in equine assisted learning and therapy. She has been doing so at her Rockwood farm for the last five years. During the sessions, whether equine-assisted psychotherapy or learning, the client never rides the horses, the interaction is always from the ground and the horse is free roam in the arena. “I’ve come to appreciate... this whole prey/predator relationship and how much trust they put in us to do what we want them to,” Porteous said. “But the thing in the work that I do is the feedback is automatic because if a horse does not understand what you’re asking, because let’s say I was doing leadership ... if you’re not leading them, you might think you’re leading them but in fact you’re
not really paying any attention, they don’t go, they simply don’t go.” Porteous has 43 years of experience in nursing but about 12 years ago she and her husband decided to buy some property so they could have horses more permanently in their lives.
post-traumatic stress and/or operational stress injuries. “This program is not intended as therapy,” the HELP website states. “Building a relationship between the participant and the horse allows problem solving, solution development and effective and valu-
“The horse will say ‘okay that didn’t kill me, I’ll go back to what I’m doing.’” - ANNE PORTEOUS
“I teach nursing now, I have for the last 17 years so I was looking for a way to marry that ... with something with horses,” she said. “And then started looking at various programs that used horses in various ways and found the EAGALA program ... and I went for one of their trainings and just kept pursuing it from there.” That pursuit eventually took her to the Heroes Equine Learning Program (HELP). The EAGALAmodel program is aimed at first responders, whether that be military, police, fire, corrections, EMS or 911-dispatchers who are affected by
able methods for healing.” Sierra Acres is one of five centres in Ontario offering the program and the three to four-day retreat is fully funded. “The whole intent of this program is to give them some tools to help manage and deescalate some of the responses that they’re having to the trauma that they’ve experienced,” she explained. “You can’t undo it but you can certainly learn how to better manage it and that’s the intent of the program.” Porteous explained that horses help the participants learn how they can better manage some of the “trig-
Anne Porteous is the owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Healing Centre in Rockwood. She offers equine assisted psychotherapy and learning with her seven horses including Charlie. She also offers the Heroes Equine Learning Program (HELP). Photo by Jaime Myslik
gers” they’re experiencing. Porteous said it’s a horse’s hyper vigilance that uniquely suits them for work with first responders and military personnel. “They get watching for the predator, similar to say the military watching for the enemy,” she said. “It’s very symbiotic, right, that they understand that but horses can show you that you don’t have to be that way all the
time. “Most people with trauma it’s sort of stuck in their brain ... So horses get that but the thing that’s different is the horse will say ‘okay that didn’t kill me, I’ll go back to what I’m doing.’ “Whereas as humans we get stuck in that.” Though she is a HELP centre Porteous said she has yet to run the program. “Whether it’s HELP or the
(other) programs that I offer, the biggest challenge is the stigma attached,” she said. Being a nurse Porteous said she understands the mentality that first responders and military personnel think they should shake off trauma, stay tough and move onto the next problem. Showing emotion is not encouraged. “Unfortunately, it’s just a CONTINUED > PAGE 26
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Rider overcomes surgery to pursue Olympic dream FROM PAGE 21
but didn’t recover after surgery. McEwan said it was hard for her to be in the barn after that. “When things fall apart it is heartbreaking,” she said. “I couldn’t go to the barn for three weeks afterwards, I just couldn’t bring myself to go out there and do it again.” McEwan added she invests so much emotionally into the horses she rides. When she met Chris Von Gartzen she was asked to help with a young horse. “Chris has had similar bad luck to mine with horses,” said McEwan. Von Gartzen added, “I’ve just gotten to the point where, I had too many heart breaks, I’ve lost too many horses.” After McEwan’s first surgery, Von Gartzen asked her to ride and care for Diego, a Zweibrücker German warmblood. “He has been sort of my main project ,” said McEwan. “He’s a complex character.” At 17 hands, Diego is a large horse. But it’s not his size that sets the eight-yearold apart. “He’s not everybody’s cup of tea because he is so in your face, he’s constantly busy and a lot of people find that frustrating and time consuming,” said McEwan. “He’s one that you’re always talking to, you always have to figure out what’s going on in his head and why
is he doing what he is doing.” About six months into recovery from her first surgery, McEwan started to struggle again. “I couldn’t really keep training, so I spoke to the surgeon and he asked me ‘well, what are you doing in a day?’ and I said ‘I’m only riding like four horses,’” she said. “He said ... ‘one maybe two horses max.’” At that point, McEwan said she had to scale back her involvement. Von Gartzen had an opening as barn manager at her farm in Erin and McEwan jumped at the opportunity. “Chris needed somebody and I was out here every day anyways to see this guy (Diego) and we were living in Fergus at that time and so it just worked,” McEwan explained. “There’s only the four stalls here so it’s not a lot of labour and I could do it on my own time, according to how I was feeling. I could take breaks if I needed to, it was a really great way to come back from the first surgery.” Then in April, McEwan had surgery on her left hip, which she said will take about a year to recover. Four years out of the ring, she said she is champing at the bit to get back into dressage. “We’ll see if this guy’s ready, he’s been slow to mature both physically and mentally,” she said of Diego.
Summer McEwan doesn’t want two hip surgeries to hold her back from Olympic dressage dreams with sponsored horse Diego. Photos by Olivia Rutt
“He’s kind of a party animal and he’s big. “Because he is such a big mover, he covers a lot of ground and covers a lot of reach. It requires an awful lot of strength for him to actually balance that, it takes time to actually build up that strength.” But McEwan said she has faith in him. “He’s going to be fabulous when he’s all grown up,” she said. McEwan said it takes about seven years to train a horse to Grand Prix.
“It’s a long-term investment,” she said. She explained the goal is to work up to Grand Prix level nationally then internationally. By showing in the international ring, a dressage rider accumulates points to be ranked on a world level. “Then what happens is whenever these games are coming around, the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games, the year prior usually, a set of criteria come out and ... they are from Equestrian Canada,” explained McEwan. She said riders eventually
get to a trial phase for the Olympic team. “If you’re thinking about trying to qualify for the Olympics, you’re in it for a few years,” she said. McEwan said Von Gartzen’s support has been unparalleled. “She’s been amazing, she’s so supportive, she’s bent over backward to make this work for me,” said McEwan. “She’s not made me feel guilty or badly or I’m just unbelievably lucky to have her helping me.” Von Gartzen is rooting
for McEwan and Diego’s Olympic aspirations, saying the pair work well together. “We all have that dream,” said Von Gartzen. “I admire that, you should have goals in life and if that’s your big goal, that’s awesome and you just work step by step, you work your way up.” While the Olympic dream is still years away, McEwan is focusing on getting herself and Diego strong again. “I think when we get the chance to show, I think he’s going to show off a little bit,” she said.
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24 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | JULY 28, 2017
Sunrise instructor considered “outstanding” at national level BY JAIME MYSLIK
PUSLINCH - Sunrise Theraputic Riding and Learning Center instructor Cathi Illerbrun, 55, recently received the Andrea Gillies Award for Outstanding CanTRA (Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association) Instructor. She said the nomination alone was “humbling” and “amazing.” “I thought ‘well, that was nice to be nominated, I’m never going to win’ kind of deal because there’s people from all across Canada. ‘What everybody does is amazing so there’ll be somebody else,’” Illerbrun said. “I was teaching on a Monday and (managing director) Lynne (O’Brien) came out and she was standing at the doorway, she’s like jumping up and down and she’s like ‘you won, you won’ and so yeah it was very exciting for everybody.” CanTRA “is a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of the horse,” the organization’s website states. “CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification.” Each year CanTRA gives out one outstanding instructor award. This year Illerbrun was the recipient. She has been teaching intermediate therapeutic rid-
ing lessons since 2009. “Over the years, Cathi has worked with many riders of all ages and abilities in our therapeutic lessons as well as in our integrated camps and our driving program,” the Sunrise nomination letter stated. “She is a ceaselessly thoughtful and dynamic instructor, in constant motion to adjust her methods
“Cathi took the time to think about how to get concepts across to the girls, and worked on a chalk board and with various types of inexpensive items to mark a course or get a movement or idea across to them,” Deb Heard, a rider’s parent, wrote in her nomination later. “She has asked myself and other parents questions about our girls, which has helped
“If there’s a will there’s a way to do it.” - CATHI ILLERBRUN
of teaching to fit the needs of each rider.” Illerbrun teaches about 32 students over a four-day week. “If there’s a will there’s a way to do it and that’s why ... when I’m working with my riders if that doesn’t work then I want to find a way that they can understand,” she explained. “Some of the parents really laugh at me upstairs because they’re going ‘what is she doing now’ because I move my body and I dramatically show them the way that I want them to do it. “And the kids go ‘oh that’s what you want’ you know but I can have fun with it and just be inventive.” The parents of Illerbrun’s riders agree.
her understand them and think of new and innovative ways to get points or movements across to them.” However, Illerbrun’s road to her outstanding instructor award hasn’t been easy and she hasn’t always been a horseback rider. When Illerbrun was in high school she experienced a traumatic brain injury as a result of a weight lifting accident. “It went undiagnosed because they didn’t recognize head injuries back then,” she said. “So my whole life changed after that.” Though she had no physical limitations Illerbrun said that she had many ups and downs in the time immediately following the accident
Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre instructor Cathi Illerbrun displays her Andrea Gillies Award for Outstanding CanTRA (Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association) Instructor. With her is Max, one of Sunrise’s therapy horses. Photo by Jaime Myslik
and “basically slept for a year after.” She then dropped out of high school. “After that I went into the workforce,” she said. “I didn’t finish high school because back then they didn’t know how to support people with head injuries. “They didn’t know what to do with you, how you
learned or anything like that.” It wasn’t until 17 years later, after she’d given birth to two boys and was a stayat-home mom that she learned the full extent of her head trauma and went to McMaster hospital for a brain injury evaluation. “I couldn’t figure out why I was an A student and then
I was struggling with math and dates and things like that so it was really hard in high school,” Illerbrun said. “So they said ... ‘it would have taken you four years to get one year in with support’ so back then I had nothing because they didn’t recognize CONTINUED > PAGE 25
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Illerbrun earns ‘outstanding’ instructor award from CanTRA FROM PAGE 24
it and it was nobody’s fault, it was just the way it was.” Her doctor at McMaster encouraged her to try new things. “He says ‘is there a dream of yours that you ... want to try, something new?” Illerbrun explained. She chose horseback riding. Once she re-entered the workforce she began working at a horse breeding facility, a vet’s office and for a small donkey breeding facility. That’s where Sunrise founder Ann Caine offered her a job at the riding centre saying she liked the way Illerbrun worked with the animals. “So a couple months later I got the nerve to come over and apply for a job here,” Illerbrun said. Shortly after beginning work as a stable assistant Illerbrun became a certified instructor, but not without uncertainty. “It was always hard for me to tell people about my head injury because ... I didn’t want to be judged,” she said. “Sometimes people judge you and before I didn’t get the support ... but now I’m not like that anymore, it’s okay to be yourself. “I found that out here, which is awesome.” Now Illerbrun is an intermediate CanTRA instructor and is the main driving instructor at Sunrise. “Cathi’s commitment to
her students is matched by a natural thirst for knowledge,” her nomination letter reads. “With her riders at the forefront of everything she does, Cathi continually strives to improve her skills and our programs to the maximum benefit of our riders.” Illerbrun is also working towards becoming an Equine Canada instructor because one of her riders is hoping to
we’ll figure this out and ... sometimes it might take a little longer but we’ll work together at it.” Illerbrun had also seen the impact of horses on people who have a disability before she began at Sunrise because one of her son’s has Asperger syndrome. “He wasn’t in a therapeutic program because he wanted to ride western and they
“If more teachers were like Cathi, the education world would be a much better place for individuals with disabilities.” - DEB HEARD
advance her riding skills. “After that you can do walk, trot, canter and then you can do basic jumping and stuff like that too,” Illerbrun explained. “So I decided that I didn’t want to give up my student so I thought I’m going to go back and be a better instructor.” Underlying all of Illerbrun’s efforts is her brain injury experience. A struggle that helps her create a unique connection with her students. “I understand the frustration about learning a different way, or it takes a little longer,” she said. “It’s okay. It’s okay to be yourself and
don’t do western ... I didn’t know he had Asperger’s when he was little,” she said. “I just knew that he just loved horses and he was fixated on horses and he just rode all the time.” Having this experience with her son helps her connect with her students. “Everybody said I’m creative or think outside the box, how to be more in tune to how they’re feeling that day,” she said. Her riders’ parents agree. “Cathi is full of energy and enthusiasm,” said parent Mike Hamp. “The encouragement and variety (of) each lesson is much appreciated.”
Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre instructor Cathi Illerbrun and therapy horse Max. Submitted photo
It was Illerbrun who introduced singing into the therapeutic riding lessons. “I had a couple students one time that weren’t even talking and then all of a sudden I started singing and
then they started singing and the mom goes, ‘What?’,” Illerbrun said. “It’s amazing how being on the horses and motivating them a different way can bring them out of their shells.”
Illerbrun said she loves teaching at Sunrise. “If more teachers were like Cathi, the education world would be a much better place for individuals with disabilities,” Heard said.
26 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | JULY 28, 2017
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Horses used for ground therapy FROM PAGE 22
hard thing to get past,” she said. “We don’t want to be seen as weak because that’s not our persona. “As much as we know and we think that it’s a needed, service people are still somewhat, I guess, reluctant to access it because ... they’re shown as being weak.” To learn more about the HELP program visit helpptsd.com/help. Porteous has six horses she uses in her assisted psychotherapy and learning sessions with a four-year-old horse in training. She said that it doesn’t take a special type of horse to do the work she asks of them but she does work to desensitize them using tools like hula
hoops, a ball and cracking a water bottle. Each of the horses participates in her work. “Each of them has a different personality and each of them has a different set of skills that they bring to the relationship,” Porteous said, adding that she has horses who need to be reminded of their boundaries often used with clients who have trouble setting boundaries and a horse who is strong and powerful but will back off when a client who is maybe being bullied brings up their energy and shows their power. “They each have a different role to play,” Porteous said. “Typically I let clients choose the horse they want to work with because usu-
ally there’s some reason the person’s attracted to that particular horse. Porteous works with a variety of clients from children who have autism to adults with Alzheimer’s disease and thesis students to corporate retreats. While clients are welcome to come for just one session Porteous suggests at least three to five. “The first session is kind of getting an idea of what their story is, what it is that they want to accomplish and how we might go about that,” she said. For more information about Sierra Acres visit sierracres.ca and to learn about EGALA contact Porteous at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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