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Carousel Riders offers therapeutic, co-operative environment to learn horse riding

Carousel Riders, is a community-fueled horse riding centre where ethics, hard work, friendship, and animal husbandry are just as important as riding

Laura Williams, owner and head coach at Carousel Riders, is a lifelong teacher and animal lover who has created a co-operative, community-fuelled horse riding centre where ethics, hard work, friendship, and animal husbandry are just as important as riding skills.

Carousel Riders is about 10 to 15 minutes outside of Moose Jaw, on 32nd Avenue Southwest. A huge barn provides the arena where Williams teaches, along with space for tack, helmets, riding boots, and other necessary accessories, and a few stalls. Many other corrals fill the property, providing space for boarded horses, rescued horses, retired horses, friendly farm cats, dogs, sheep, and chickens, and, currently, a baby cow needing bottle feeding (dozens of children and adults have now fallen in love with the well-cared-for little creature).

Williams started teaching as part of a program for children with special needs in 1982, at Prairie South School Division. She taught Grade 3 at Westmount, where her first son was born, at Palliser and Prince Arthur, went back to Westmount, and more. She spent a 28-year career as a teacher in many different classrooms, and says being a teacher is now an inescapable part of who she is — which is why her love of riding eventually led to teaching riding.

Creating Carousel Riders

"When I finally got my first horse, it was two years after I started teaching, because I needed to save up, and so I started riding. And I showed and travelled around the province with a good friend, and it was a lot of fun," Williams explained. "And at some point, I thought, if I could teach a few kids, it could help pay for some of my horse expenses."

She began teaching at a pony club on a volunteer basis, and eventually bought a teaching horse. Then, she bought another, and another. She doesn't believe in abandoning animals once their usefulness is over, so her working horses tend to stay with her right through retirement to the end of their lives.

Williams and her husband began building Carousel Riders just before she retired. From the start, they had the help of a community who want to be part of her vision.

"One thing that's kind of neat about my place, and something that I'm incredibly grateful for, is that the people who have ridden here, both the kids and the adults, have often contributed a lot to building it over the years," she said. "One student's dad helped weld my corral, another dad of a student helped when we were building the arena, and another friend of mine helped to build sections of the barn.

"That's always been true, that the whole thing has not just been our work, but the work of people who have lent a hand, and in that way we're incredibly lucky to have such wonderful people in our lives. They've made it possible for us to keep going, because we aren't wealthy people, and it's expensive and we don't have unlimited funds. But, with the support of parents, kids, and others that have helped us, we've been able to expand and continue."

Williams is an Equine Canada certified coach in both English and Western disciplines. She has done horse therapy with seniors and people with special needs and disabilities, put on special classes with other educators, ridden in the Hometown Parade for many years (because its fun for the kids), and her students have shown and competed at events across the prairies.

She partners with a certified Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) coach for several programs, which she said has been amazing for many struggling people, and often does fun, themed activities, such as encouraging students to dress up for holidays and playing games to everyone's ability level.

Holistic learning philosophy

"In some ways, I don't see this so much as a business," Williams explained. "It's more a place where kids come and learn about animals, develop friendships and connections, they learn ethics in terms of working and caring for the horses, because horses take so much more work than just the riding, and their needs come first before you look after yourself in most cases.

"For example, if the kids have been riding and it's chilly, they put a blanket on the horse before they go and warm up themselves. It's the idea that you learn to look after others. You learn to go and help, you know, when you see a need, and on the way you meet people and bond and now you have a new friend."

From the first lesson at Carousel Riders, students help take care of their mount, from currying and brushing to cleaning tack and equipment, from monitoring the health of the horse to mucking out stalls. Williams does not give them responsibilities they can't handle at their age and maturity level, but students always know they and their horse are a team — the animal is never just a means to an end.

In most sports, Williams pointed out, the athlete's partner is a tennis racket, or a swimming suit, or a firearm and skis. 

"Your equipment isn't breathing, it doesn't have a mind of its own. And when your partner is an 1100- or 1200-pound animal, or even 600 pounds, there's a lot of it that's hard. Horses don't speak English, so it's a different kind of communication."

Williams believes people of all ages need a place they can go that is both purposeful and safe. That's why she also accepts volunteers who just want to come out and help care for the animals, many of whom are rescues (all the cats were throwaways.)

"Life is just tough, and you want to give them a safe spot, because you can see some of them are struggling. And that immediately supercedes making the money. It makes running a business very tough. If you don't make the money, you can't pay for the hay, you can't pay for the horses, the vet, this and that, but it is what it is.

"But there's such a need for people to have something that recharges them and contributes to their wellness."

Carousel Riders is on Facebook, and on the web at Text or call Laura Williams at 306-684-1289 for more information.

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