Olivia Brown was born with Retinitis pigmentosa (RP)- an eye disease in which there is damage to the retina. Retinitis pigmentosa is a progressive disorder. With RP, night blindness generally precedes tunnel vision by years or even decades. The progression of this particular disorder is different in each case. There are many people with RP do not become blind right away. Others go completely blind as early as childhood. It is an extremely rare condition that has left Olivia ‘legally’ blind.

Talking with Olivia, one would never guess that she is visually impaired. She is a fully functional 19 year old, she enjoys hanging out with her friends and playing with her seeing-eye-dog Echo. Perhaps her most impressive quailty is that Olivia is an exceptional equestrian. She competes in dressage and has received first place in various competitions as well as ‘High Point Champ’.

Olivia first got involved in riding st the age of 10, in a therapeutic riding program for children with disabilities. Therapeutic Riding, also known as Equine Assisted Therapy, uses the horse to achieve a variety of therapeutic aims, including cognitive, physical, social, educational and behavioral goals. In Olivia’s case Therapeutic riding improves things such as, posture, breathing, and sense of barings.

Olivia has now been riding for almost ten years. She demonstrates an incredible amount of perseverance in overcoming her disability. She explains that without volunteers her riding career would not have been made possible. The generous people who dedicated their time to helping her learn to ride, changed her life indefinitely.

Volunteers and riders preparing for TEAD's annual Ride-a-Thon

Olivia is a volunteer at the Equestrian Association for the Disabled (TEAD)where she helps by leading and side walking riders of various ages and various disabilities. Olivia is giving back. She now helps to motivate others with disabilities, as she learned to over come her own obstacles.

“TEAD is an amazing program” explains Olivia “I have a great time helping others to learn to ride and and have fun. The volunteers are a huge part of the program, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

T.E.A.D. was started by a group of individuals from the Hamilton area in 1978. A doctor, physiotherapist and other willing volunteers saw a need for this type of program in Hamilton and the Equestrian Association has been providing therapeutic riding ever since.There are 110 children and adults with a wide variety of disabilities that currently attend T.E.A.D. on a weekly basis. They range from age 2-60 and must first have approval from their doctor and then from T.E.A.D.’s physiotherapist. These riders are taught by nationally certified instructors and assisted by more than 200 volunteers every week. Operations such as TEAD run almost primary on volunteers like myself and Olivia.

Pat Bullok, a certified therapeutic riding instructor, explained “without volunteers, TEAD could not run. Riders and parents are so appreciative of everyone who donates their time to the program”.

Pat has been working with TEAD for ten years she explains that her love for horses is what initially had her interested. But she was soon fascinated by the physical, mental emotional and social benefits of therapeutic riding.

“Working with some of the riders is truly an eye opening experience, it provides a sense of total awareness,” explaned Bullock, “for some of our riders, it could be the only time they spend out of their wheelchair.”

Donating as little as one hour a week  can have a big impact on someone else’s life. Anyone who comes in contact with the TEAD is struck by the  inspirational and motivated people who have gone through the program. As Pat stated, “it provides a sense of total awareness. Volunteering with TEAD has been a truly humbling experience, I look forward to it every week.”

TEAD is always looking for new volunteers!

There are so many volunteering opportunities available today. TEAD and many others can be found on http://www.volunteerhamilton.on.ca/.

This site is home to thousands of available volunteering opportunities. Some include; the Good Shepard, City Kids, Neighbour to Neighbour and many more. They offer a wide range of volunteering jobs, from working with kids at day camps, to working at shelters, and  working with the elderly. All of which are fun and enjoyable.


Third year English and Literature major at Brock University.

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