A closer look at therapeutic riding

The Christalle Brittney Chambers Therapeutic Horseback Academy (CBC) in Elk Grove, Calif., is a family-run program that teaches both youth and adults the basics of horse care and riding skills—both English and Western styles—and offers programs in a therapeutic way like we will. The therapy portion of CBC ensures that its coaches are trained and certified to serve individuals with disabilities, 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, an open yard and a fully enclosed indoor yard used when it is too hot or raining.

CBC history

The CBC Lessons program caters to beginner to advanced riders. Academy instructors help students reach their goals, while assessing their strengths and weaknesses and guiding them throughout their equestrian journey. The aim is to provide a warm and welcoming environment to build student confidence and help them achieve their personal goals. Students at CBC vary in age with children under the age of 4. As for the horses, their ages range from 11 to 28 years.

Enrollment is around 100 students, and they are mentored by Brittney Chambers, Founder, Owner, and Lead Instructor; her sister Crystal Chambers, head trainer and barn manager; and Gina Busey, a riding instructor and equestrian class instructor with a great deal of experience in many different riding disciplines.

Chambers has an extensive background in knowledge of horses and riding, which was brought up 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 training, handling, and healing horses in disciplines from Thoroughbred racing to show jumping. Glenn’s experience includes working with the 1976 Preakness Stakes winner Elocutionist and with Peter Linfoot, DVM. He also accompanied two horses – in 1987 and 1988 – to the Kentucky Derby in this role.

Glenn has also previously conducted clinics on equine skills, injury treatment and equine behaviour, although his main role at the academy is to encourage his daughter, Brittney, to pursue her dream. “I’ve been around horses my whole life, growing up around them since I was a little girl. When I was in high school, 2008, I did my senior project on horses with a research project focused on equine therapy. And from those days I decided I wanted a career with horses, and my ultimate goal is to have a therapeutic riding program in the future, one day,” said Brittney Chambers.

While in college, Britney studied social sciences, alcohol and drug counseling, and psychology. She holds a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice Administration. Britney is also dual certified as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor (TRI), and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) through the Professional Therapeutic Equine Association International. Using her human services education and experience along with her passion for horses, Brittany aims to serve people with disabilities, at-risk youth, people with substance abuse issues, veterans, and anyone else who just wants to get involved with horses.

In December 2015, Britney founded and opened the CBC Therapeutic Horseback Riding Academy to help people, especially young adults, get comfortable around horses. She has built a CBC to incorporate basic equine education, as well as work in therapies to build confidence in those who need it.

“Such as [COVID-19 pandemic] Strikingly, CBC has increased student enrollment since equestrian activities in California were exempt, and with CBC’s focus on mental health issues, CBC has been able to stay open. Britney explained that due to anxiety and the closure of the epidemic, which prompted many within him to expand greatly.

“Equestrianism has been an activity that many have discovered due to those suffering from anxiety, depression not being able to be with friends, and mainly separation anxiety has led these to CBC activities as a way out of isolation due to COVID-19.”

CBC Basics

The fundamentals of teaching at CBC is to treat each student as an individual. Some students just want to learn basic riding skills for both English and Western styles. Those with previous riding experience want more gritty training like barrel racing, dressage, and show jumping.

“Regardless of whether a student is a beginner or somewhat experienced, we have to teach riding in a way that is unique to each individual. For example, if a student has a strong anxiety about horses, we might use two instructors, and teach in a slower way to ensure they feel safe. For those beginner riders, they’ll get the basics of horse handling, riding and riding skills in. For those students with a lot of confidence, we may be able to put them on a fast track to learning,” Chambers said.

“When one goes out into our yard or barn, you probably won’t be able to tell the student’s problem because they all blend in,” Chambers explains. “Some students may need to be taught using different techniques, different wording to provide the basics of getting on a horse to progress to more complex riding skills. Some students may take longer to process the instructions we give them. Some may not be in good shape or have the physical abilities to ride. Therefore, we tend to cater to the individual needs of each student to reach the common goal of horseback riding.”

As much as she helps these students with many mental health issues, having Chambers certified as an ESMHL allows her to help specific students. For example, which horse temperament might work best with particular students.

“Before starting CBC Academy, I did a lot of work with group homes and community programs with at-risk youngsters, and that’s where I got the knowledge of how to work with the ‘people’ side,” Chambers says. Her equine mental health specialist and learning certificate help her use The horse as a tool for treating students who particularly need it.

The Academy currently collaborates with community organizations as well as the Sacramento Police Department to identify and assist individuals who may benefit from equine therapy.

CBC students

Chambers shared one student’s experience as an example of what the Academy can do for people. According to Chambers, the young woman didn’t have much confidence when she first showed herself to CBC. “She didn’t stand upright, she was very quiet, she didn’t use a voice, and she was very shy,” Chambers noted.

However, coming twice a week and working with the horses gives this student remarkable confidence. “Now, when she’s in the barn, she’s very firm, walks up to her horse, combs confidently, with an ease that gets the horse to hook. Even her riding has improved a lot,” Chambers said.

“The confidence the horses give the students is just amazing,” Chambers said. “As every student, even those especially shy and beginners like Ashley, realizes, through the careful training we give them, fairly soon they are in control of their horse and while riding more naturally they can do it themselves.” As the horse responds positively, the student does an excellent job, Chambers expresses to the student that he is doing an excellent job and this makes them feel good and reduces their anxiety.

“We have many riders who suffer from severe anxiety, even just riding a horse. For these students, they do stress-relieving exercises—deep breathing and relaxation,” Chambers said. “When riders are feeling anxious, we ask them to focus on the horse and notice how calm the horse is. We will ask them if there is something they might be anxious about. They focus on the calm mood of the horse/horses, we ensure they focus on what the horse is doing. If said, that one Our horses almost ‘fall asleep’ while the student is on his back, Chambers asks them to relax and pause for a moment and become aware of their anxiety, to make them realize that they are anxious by being able to help the horse calm their anxiety.

If a student is very anxious, clearly concerned about their anxiety, Chambers encourages them to put that aside and focus on their horses and riding them. “When the horse responds positively, the student becomes calmer,” Chambers notes. Their anxiety is virtually stopped by their horse while they build their confidence in riding. For those anxious individuals, Chambers encourages them to communicate their anxiety even when they are not at the academy, and what a student with anxiety can do to help reduce their anxiety.

We let each student choose their “path,” whether it’s just being around horses; Basically just English or Western riding or whether that be dressage, hunters or even barrel racing. We have allowed the student to choose which atmosphere they wish to pursue, although in each case they are carefully observed – one-on-one with a tutor.

Online education

Part of the CBC program is online learning where students at the CBC Horseback Riding Academy participate in learning about horse health and care, horse breeding, riding and other equipment for horse care and various types of equine sports.

Equestrian classes include All But Riding – more information about horse breeding, anatomy, disease, and management. These classes also teach barn basics, grooming skills, and horse first aid.

Group sessions include networking, team building and relationship sessions. It also involves riding skills for those who choose to ride in a group rather than just the base job. This helps these students interact with each other to enhance overall interpersonal communication and relationship skills.

CBC horse and veterinary care

Horses at CBC have regular veterinary care for their health. “We have some horses that need special diets to benefit their health, and we work closely with our vet to maintain that. Our horses also see the farrier on a steady 6- to 8-week cycle,” Chambers said.

“The same vet has been treating our horses for over 20 years, Robert Hunter, DVM, Owner of Stallion Station, Wilton CA,” said Chambers. “He has a wonderful relationship with all of our horses and treats them as if they were his own. He is very caring and understands each individual’s specific needs.”

“When we have a horse that might have a possible leg injury, our vet completes an X-ray and a safety check. Dr. Hunter gives all of our vaccinations and feeds our horses teeth too,” added Chambers.

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