Annika Christensen first joined the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA) when she was 12 years old. Annika was referred by her family doctor with a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis following a number of traumatic events.
Prior to starting at CTRA, Annika had been plagued by nightmares and had lost her ability to sleep. She was haunted by incessant fears and felt continuously on edge. Loud noises frequently brought her to tears. Her parents noticed these alarming behavioural changes and became very worried about the long-term harm this trauma had caused their bright, bubbly daughter.
Fortunately, things started turning around for the family after Annika’s first therapeutic riding lesson. Through the healing and empowering nature of the horse-human connection, Annika quickly regained the coping skills necessary to overcome her trauma. She started sleeping through the night, experiencing fewer nightmares, and regaining her overall resiliency.
Annika’s doctor credits much of her miraculous recovery to therapeutic riding; a sentiment shared by the Christensen’s who feel that “the program has been instrumental in her recovery and long term well-being.” Since coming to CTRA, the family “hasn’t looked back.”
But recovery was just the start of Annika’s journey at CTRA.
In the spring of 2018, Annika (always a community-minded kid) decided to give back to the program by volunteering as a “Side-Walker” (someone who helps steady the therapeutic rider aboard their horse). Her new equestrian skills came in handy, and soon Annika was serving as a leader in CTRA’s summer camps. In the fall of 2018, Annika progressed to the role of “Horse Handler” (a volunteer who helps the therapeutic rider with direction and speed control). CTRA’s Volunteer Coordinator credits Annika’s effervescent personality and keen horse sense with making her an ideal volunteer and role-model – especially for younger youth taking part in the program.
“I volunteer because I know what the program has done for me in the rider’s place,” Annika says of her decision to pay-it-forward. “I want to be a part of giving another person what the program has given me.”
Later in the fall of 2018, Annika got her first job working once-per-week in the CTRA stables. As a participant, volunteer, and employee Annika is the ultimate ambassador for CTRA’s program and the profound benefits that therapeutic riding offers persons with “invisible” disabilities such as PTSD. In fact, Annika has brought several new riders to the program through her personal outreach and advocacy alone.
In the spring of 2019, Annika was recognized with a “Leaders of Tomorrow Award,” a volunteer recognition program that celebrates Cowichan Valley youth aged 6-24 who demonstrate outstanding leadership through volunteer work and serve as role models for other youth. This award is another amazing highlight of Annika’s inspiring journey – a journey that has just begun.