“The Sturgeons noticed families taking a round of lessons, then quitting until they could afford another round. Roy and Christina ‘couldn’t see a kid go without because of money,’ and allowed kids to continue riding anyway. Riding Through Barriers was formed.”
Riding Through Barriers (RTBS), which funds lessons, clinics, and camps for families who otherwise couldn’t afford horses, began in 2015 as an offshoot of the lesson program at Roy and Christina Sturgeon’s Flying Cross Farm, based in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. The Sturgeons noticed families taking a round of lessons, then quitting until they could afford another round. Roy and Christina “couldn’t see a kid go without because of money,” and allowed kids to continue riding anyway. When parents realized how many kids the Sturgeons supported, they wanted to help, and RTBS was formed.
The Sturgeons both have racing backgrounds; Roy spent 12 years as a jockey and later started a training center before going into team roping. Christina grew up around horses and spent her career as a groom and later a track manager. That background, paired with Roy’s love of teaching and passion for racing, led to the “Junior Jockey Program.”
The Junior Jockey Program teaches kids basic race-riding skills, such as galloping in company and breaking from the gate. The kids take pride in these skills and grow stronger, mentally and physically. One parent says, “the Junior Jockeys program is unique. It provides kids with skills and experience that might not be available otherwise. They gain self-confidence, self-worth, and responsibility and learn teamwork, support, empathy, focus, and dedication. They apply these qualities to other areas. These kids demonstrate tremendous personal growth. For those dealing with challenges, it provides needed positivity. On a personal note, my daughter experienced many challenges in her early teens — being in the group, learning these skills, turned everything around. She’s a happy, confident, responsible 17-year-old with a desire to learn and help others.”
When asked how RTBS has impacted those in the program, several parents submitted responses:
- “RTBS helped my family immensely. Without them, my children wouldn’t have been riding, and without riding, I doubt my oldest daughter would’ve made it through her father’s and my divorce. It was hard on her; she endured hardships no child that young should ever go through. I joined RTBS primarily to help fund my children’s riding because as a single mom, I couldn’t afford the fees. Over the years, I’ve been part of an amazing group of parents who’ve evolved from fundraising for our own children to raising enough to provide funds for others in Central Alberta to experience the Ranch and the healing that takes place there! I’m proud of what we’ve achieved!”
- “RTBS helped my daughter. She was struggling in school and with making friends. Not long after she started riding, my husband was laid off. Through fundraising, RTBS helped cover her fees so she could continue riding. Her grades went up and she’s been on the honor roll since.”
- “We joined RTBS initially to help pay for my daughter’s lessons. Over the years, I’ve watched her grow into a kind, caring, confident young woman. She’s learned to be part of a team while making friends and learning skills that’ll last a lifetime. The barn is a safe place where any child can learn and grow; to watch it happen is truly amazing.”
- “RTBS provides an avenue for children to participate in programs such as Junior Jockeys. Anything involving horses is expensive and these costs prevent many kids from enjoying learning with horses. Riding differs from many other sports because it’s about the connection between rider and animal. It’s something many kids thrive on when nothing else works. RTBS aims to enable as many kids as possible to have these wonderful experiences, without money as a barrier. It’s wonderful to see a child learn and grow in an environment they thrive in.”
- “I can’t express enough the huge positive impact the programs at Flying Cross Ranch had on my daughter. She started riding at 13 and was shy, quiet, and reserved. I believe her experiences in the programs have helped her grow into a 15-year-old who expresses herself with confidence. She’s flourished in the atmosphere of acceptance, dedication, and support at Flying Cross Ranch.”
- “The riding programs at Flying Cross Ranch have impacted our family in many ways. I have three girls who ride at the ranch, two are my nieces who I took over guardianship for a few years ago. It was a hard time for us, emotionally and financially. RTBS helped me financially to provide my girls this riding adventure. It turned out to be more than exercise and a place to get away. Through volunteering, the girls have had opportunities to do chores and gain a new understanding of hard work, to deal with the public and show respect in tough situations while under timelines and pressure. They’ve had opportunities to be part of a team with the Junior Jockeys. Roy and his team gave them a place to learn and grow. It’s astounding to see the change in these children, physically and mentally. When you met these kids, you might think they wouldn’t make it through the first week. They’ve stuck with it, showing determination, forming friendships along the way, and encouraging each other at every practice. Riding can be scary, but the girls are strong and look a challenge in the eye and give it a wink. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, it’s been life-changing for my family.”
RTBS was invited to this year’s Jockeys and Jeans Gala, held at Santa Anita Park; they’ve set up a GoFundMe to raise money to attend. Per Christina, “the kids will have opportunities to meet the jockeys. They’ll get to take the Seabiscuit tour and learn from one of the greatest underdog stories ever. These kids don’t come from families with money, and this trip won’t be possible without some help.” Besides the GoFundMe, RTBS also holds their annual fundraiser, “Talk Derby to Me.” Talk Derby to Me is a “vintage Kentucky-Derby-style murder mystery dinner theater” performed by a local theater group and featuring horse races performed by members of the Junior Jockey Program.
Learn more about Riding Through Barriers at the organization’s Facebook page.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.