In the early 1960’s, Dr. Elmer Butt, a noted Windsor radiologist and equestrian observed horses being used for therapy with physically challenged children in England. He brought the idea back to Windsor with him and in September 1971, Dr. Butt chaired a meeting to form what was to become the Windsor Association of Riding for the Handicapped (W.A.R.H). It became the first such association in Canada.
W.A.R.H. was incorporated in 1973, and gained recognition as a Registered Canadian Charitable Organization. In order to better describe the area it serves and the services it provides, the association formally changed its name in August 1995 to the Windsor – Essex Therapeutic Riding Association (WETRA).
During its first season over 50 years ago, Fran Ferguson conducted the program with only eight children and a handful of volunteers. Today, WETRA employs a team of full-time and part-time staff, which includes instructors certified with CanTRA, NARHA and the Ontario Equestrian Federation, an Occupational Therapist and a mental health professional as well as 100 weekly volunteers.
Nearly 200 persons with special needs receive therapy at WETRA each week. About 80% of those who are enrolled in the program are children who have developmental, emotional or physical disabilities. The remaining 20% are adults with similar challenges. Children and adults with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, head injuries, post stroke and learning disabilities enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of equine assisted therapies.
WETRA continued to operate out of the same 5 acre location for nearly 45 years. As the demand for its services continued to grow, the Windsor – Essex Therapeutic Riding Association felt it had outgrown its facilities. Although the old farm had a whole lot of history and a sense of tradition, it was beginning to show major signs of disrepair and the city was encroaching. WETRA needed to begin a plan to purchase acreage in the country and build a new, bigger and better farm. Discussions of this plan began in the fall of 2005.
In December of 2009, with the help of $1.4 million in government infrastructure funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and many generous donations, the ‘Building a Stable Future’ fundraising campaign had a tremendous boost.
In March 2011, WETRA moved into its new, state of the art therapeutic equine centre.
The farm is currently situated on 73 acres along the Chrysler Canada Greenway trail in Essex (near the little town of McGregor). The new facility offers complete accessibility and has allowed WETRA to expand its many services to the community.
The 28,880-square-foot riding arena and 4,585 square-foot office/lounge area is built with fundraising and sustainability in mind. The site also includes a 12,597-square-foot stable for housing up to 30 horses, a spacious tack room, a classroom area, hay storage and other equestrian amenities such as a hydraulic lift to assist people from wheelchairs to horseback.