Even a stranger could see the connection between 17-year-old Jacob Bombardier and his horse Cherry

Each time Jacob’s helpers tell him to take a deep, calming breath, you can see his mount do it too.

The horses at the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association (VTRA) are considered therapists, helping children and adults who have physical or mental challenges or illnesses.

Jacob is autistic and considered non-verbal, but when he is asked about horses he is ready with answers.

His favourite horse for example, “Cherry,” and the best part of riding, “to trot.”

Jacob’s mother has seen a dramatic change in him since he started riding three years ago.

“What it’s done for him socially and for his confidence has just been amazing. There’s something about the horses that’s pretty special,” said Bridget Lott.

Jacob certainly appeared confident as he, with the help of handlers, guided his horse around an obstacle course at the VTRA’s annual show, in which about 50 riders competed in front of family and supporters.

For some riders, the motion of the horse and using their core strength to stay put is physiotherapy. For others, getting the equines to do what they want helps with communication skills.

“You forget what you’re actually here for and you just relax with the horse’s movement, and the personality of the horse and you get back so much feedback,” said Annie Brothwell with the VTRA.

Almost all of the work at the stable is done by volunteers. Amber Kottmeier was so inspired by how the horses helped her son Wilf that she wanted to help other kids get the same experience.

"He felt empowered. He was up on a big animal, he was taller than everybody else, particularly for a child who didn't learn to walk until he was three," said Kottmeier. "There’s just something about seeing kids that have gone through a lot of medical intervention, seeing them smile and be so happy, I love it."

Everyone at the show got a well-earned ribbon. Asked if he was going to put up his ribbon at home, Jacob responded enthusiastically, “Board at home, yeah.”

His mother stood next to him, beaming with pride.

“Not only does it make me proud; he’s proud, so that’s cool to see.”