Margaret Smith and Mikaila Cox

Beavers All

First-year student Mikaila Cox has found another outlet for her interest in horses, joined by her mother, Assistant Registrar Margaret Smith.

Mother and daughter volunteer as horse leaders and walkers at Ottawa's Challenged Champions Equestrian Center, where people with special needs receive support through horseback riding and other physical, emotional and mental development activities.

Mikaila, who rides in speed competitions and shows horses in the summer, became involved with Challenged Champions last fall through a post-secondary social work class she took at the university.

Now volunteering during evening classes at Challenged Champions, she and her mother work as guides, helping riders as well as leading horses. "When you get in that world, you forget about all your troubles," says Margaret, noting the excitement she sees in the smiles of children.

The program, for 4-year-olds through adults, never turns youngsters away "because it's not just riding; it's learning," she adds. Children also participate in physical and mental exercises such as stretching and games, and work on learning colors and letters. Participants stay with the program, Mikaila says, "as long as it's beneficial and it's working for them."

Challenged Champions recently held a Halloween event where children engaged in learning-centered games to earn prizes. "We are amazed at the progress of the kids," says Margaret. "They're growing all the time, even since we began volunteering."

Founded by Laura Luginbill, the nonprofit organization was established in 1997 and counted 266 participants in 2012.