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A female RCMP officer and a woman stand next to a horse

Musical Ride horses help injured soldiers

An RCMP Musical Ride trainer watches as a participant of the Soldier On program removes her horse's bridle. Credit: RCMP

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Canadian Armed Forces Master Cpl. Shari Ireland was literally getting back in the saddle.

Reconnecting with horses has helped her realize that her potential is not limited by her own physical challenges.

Ireland attended a five-day riding program at the RCMP's Musical Ride stables earlier this year.

The event was organized by Soldier On — a Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group program that helps serving and retired members deal with physical or mental injuries.

"When I first got here I thought there's no way I'm getting on that horse," says Ireland, who grew up on a southern Ontario acreage with horses.

Her initial fear stemmed from the chronic pain she endures because of a medical condition that causes discomfort in her legs.

"But I climbed on and this entire week has been wonderful," says Ireland, moments after she and the 11 other Armed Forces participants rode in a basic formation. "I never thought I'd be doing that."

Ireland will be medically released from the Forces in May 2020. She says the experience gave her the challenge and boost in confidence she needed as she manages her medical condition and prepares to leave the military. She plans on studying to be a pastry chef.

"The horses have been fun to be around," she says. "It's just relaxing and it's been great to talk to the others here who are going through similar issues."

Capt. Ryan Barber, operations officer for Solider On, says the program is meant for participants to challenge themselves, realize their potential and connect with members facing similar issues.

"Events like this remind the members they're not alone and there's a life waiting for them once they recover or as they deal with their injury," says Barber.

Unlike Ireland, Navy Lt. Sylvie Desbiens had no experience around horses, but was still eager to learn some basic riding skills.

She's also being medically released from the Forces this year and is studying to become an accredited translator.

"This one's a bit rough," she says referring to a horse named Pichou. "But working with him reminds you that you can learn new things and manage."

"For me, I felt a bit alone in the process, but when you come here you realize you're not," says Desbiens. "But working with the horses reminds you that you can learn new things and manage.

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