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A closer look at therapeutic horseback riding
An academy in California is teaching equine care and equestrian skills to children and adults while students build confidence and pursue personal goals
The Christalle Brittney Chambers Therapeutic Horseback Riding Academy (CBC) in Elk Grove, California, is a family operated program that teaches both youth and adults the basics of equine care and riding skills—English and Western styles—and offers programs in a therapeutic way as well. The therapy portion of CBC ensures its instructors are trained and certified to serve individuals with disabilities, and other mental health issues, and at-risk youth.
The CBC program runs 6 days a week. Lessons are either 30 minutes or 1 hour. The grounds have an enclosed barn, open arena, and a totally closed indoor arena which is used when it’s extremely hot or raining.
CBC’s lesson program serves beginners to advanced riders. Academy instructors help students reach their goals, while assessing their strengths, weaknesses and guiding them along their horsemanship journey. The goal is providing a warm and welcoming environment to build the student’s confidence and help them reach their personal goals. Students at CBC vary in age with those as young as 4-years-old to. As for the horses, their ages range from 11 to 28 years.
Student enrollement is about 100, and they are instructed by Brittney Chambers, founder, owner, and lead instructor; her sister Christalle Chambers, the senior instructor and barn manager; and Jenna Busse, a horseback riding instructor and horsemanship class teacher with an extensive amount of experience in several different riding disciplines.
Chambers has an extensive background in equine knowledge and in horseback riding, fostered since she was a young girl under the tutelage and encouragement of her father, Glenn Chambers. Her father was an equestrian of over 50 years with experience in training, handling, and healing of horses in disciplines from racing Thoroughbreds to show jumping. Glenn’s experience includes working with 1976 Preakness Stakes winner Elocutionist and with Peter Linfoot, DVM. He also accompanied 2 horses—in 1987 and 1988— to the Kentucky Derby in that role.
Glenn also has previously conducted clinics on horsemanship skills, injury treatment, and equine behavior, though his key role with the academy is encouraging his daughter, Brittney to pursue her dream. “I’ve been around horses all my life, as a grew up around them from the time I was a little girl. When a senior in high school, 2008, I did my senior project on horses with a research project emphasizing horse therapy. And from those days I decided I’d like to have a career with horses, my ultimate goal to have a therapeutic riding program in my future, one day,” said Brittney Chambers.
While in college, Brittney studied social science, alcohol and drug counseling, and psychology; and earned her Master of science degree in criminal justice administration. Brittney is also a dually certified as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor (TRI), and an Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Using her education and experience in the human services field in combination withher passion for horses, Brittany aims to serve people with disabilities, at risk youth, people with addiction issues, veterans, and anyone else who just wants to become involved with horses.
In December 2015, Brittney founded and opened the CBC Therapeutic Horseback Riding Academy to help people, especially youth, to be comfortable around horses. She built CBC to incorporate teaching basic horsemanship, as well as work in therapeutics to build confidence in those who so needed it.
“As the [COVID-19 pandemic] hit, CBC increased in student enrollment since in California equestrian activities were exempt, and as CBC focuses on mental health issues CBC was able to stay open. And due to the anxiety and lockdown of the pandemic, which forced so many inside it expanded significantly,” Brittney explained.
“Horsemanship was an activity that many discovered due to those with anxiety, depression not being able to be around friends and essentially separation anxiety pushed those to CBC’s activities as a way out of the isolation due to COVID-19.”
The basics of the CBC Program
The basics of teaching at CBC is to treat each student as an individual. Some of the students solely want to learn basic horse-riding skills of both English and Western styles. Those with previous riding experience want more assertive training such as barrel racing, dressage, and show jumping.
“Not matter whether a student is a novice or somewhat experienced, we have to teach riding in a unique way to each individual. For example, if a student has high anxiety around horses, we might use two instructors, teach in a slower manner to ensure they feel safe. For those novice riders, they would get the basics of handling horses, tacking, and riding skills. For those students with a lot of confidence, we may be able to put them on a fast track for learning,” said Chambers.
“When one would come out to our arena or the barn, you probably wouldn’t be able tell what a student’s issue is because they all blend in,” Chambers explains. “Some students might need teaching using different techniques, different wording to provide the basics of just being up on a horse to progress to more complicated riding skills. Some of the students might take longer to process the instructions we’re giving them. Some might not be in shape or have the physical abilities to ride. Therefore, we tend to each student’s individual needs to get to the common goal of horseback riding.”
As far as helping those students with various mental health issues, Chambers being certified as an ESMHL allows her to help certain students. For example, which horse’s temperament might work better with certain students.
“Before starting the CBC Academy, I did a lot work with group homes and community programs with at-risk youth, so that’s where I got the knowledge of how to work with the ‘people’ side,” states Chambers. Her Equine Specialist in mental health and learning certification helps her use the horse as a tool for therapy for those students that especially need it.
The academy currently partners with community organizations as well as the Sacramento Police Department to identify and assist individuals that might benefit from equine therapy.
Chambers shared one student’s experience as an example for what the academy can do for people. According to Chambers, the young woman had little confidence when she first same to CBC. “She didn’t stand up tall, she was very quiet, she didn’t use voice, and was very shy,” noted Chambers.
However, coming in twice a week and working with the horses has provided this student with noticeable confidence. “Now, when she’s at the barn, she’s very assertive, walks to right up to her horse, brushes her with confidence, easily gets the horse tacked up. Even her riding has improved a lot,” said Chambers.
“The confidence the horses give the students is just incredible,” Chambers emphasized. “As each student, even those especially shy and novice ones like Ashley realize with the careful training we give them, fairly soon they’re controlling their horse and while riding more naturally able doing so by themselves.”As the horse responds positively, as the student is doing an excellent job, Chambers expresses to the student that they’re doing an excellent job and that makes them feel good and decreases their anxiety.
“We have several riders with high anxiety, even just getting on the horse. For those students they go through de-stress exercises—relaxed deep breathing,” stated Chambers. “When the riders are anxious, we tell them to focus on the horse and notice how calm the horse is. We’ll ask them if there is something they might be anxious about, as they concentrate on the calm temperament of the horse/s we ensure that they concentrate on what the horse is doing. If say, one of our horses almost goes to ‘sleep’ while the student is on their back, Chambers tells them to relax, take a moment and be conscious of their anxiety, to make them aware that they are anxious they can and with the help of the horse calm their anxiety down.
If a student is super anxious, obviously worried about their anxiety, Chambers encourages them they can put that aside and concentrate on their horse and riding. “As the horse responds positively, the student then becomes calmer,” Chambers notes. “Their anxiety is almost ‘switched off’ by their horse as they build their riding confidence. And for those anxious individuals, Chambers encourages them to transfer their anxiety even when they’re not at the Academy, and what the student with anxiety can do to help minimize their anxiety.
We let each student pick their ‘path,’ whether its solely just being around the horses; solely groundwork; English or Western riding or be it dressage, hunter-jumpers, even barrel racing. We let the student choose the vibe that they want to pursue, though in each case carefully monitored – one-on-one with an instructor.
As a portion of CBC’s program is online learning where students situated at the CBC Horseback Riding Academy, engage in learning horse health and care, husbandry, riding, and other equipment to take proper care of horses, and the various genres of equine sports.
Horsemanship classes involve all but riding – further information on horse husbandry, anatomy, illness, management. These classes also teach barn groundwork, grooming skills, and equine first aid.
Group sessions engages communication, team building, and relationship sessions. They also involve riding skills for those within the group chose riding as opposed to solely groundwork. This helps those students interact with each other to enhance their overall personal communication and relationship skills.
CBC Horse and veterinary care
The horses at CBC have regular veterinary care for their health. “We do have some horses that need special diets to benefit their health and we work very closely with our veterinarian to maintain that. Our horses also see the farrier on a consistent 6–8-week cycle,” said Chambers.
“We have had the same veterinarian treat our horses for over 20 years, Robert Hunter, DVM, owner of Stallion Station, Wilton California,” said Chambers. “He has a great relationship with all our horses and treats them as if they were his own. He is very caring and understands the specific needs of each one.”
“Whenever we have a horse that may have a possible leg injury, our vet completes the x-rays and soundness check. Dr Hunter gives all vaccines and floats our horses’ teeth as well,” Chambers added.