Zajac Ranch

There’s good news for children with special medical needs in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. The Zajac Ranch for Children in Mission is now offering a year-round Therapeutic Riding Program—thanks in part to a grant from the Envision Charitable Foundation.

The Foundation recently gave the Ranch an $8,375 grant to help offset startup costs for the program including the purchase of a wheelchair lift, wheelchair ramp, saddles and other specialized equipment.

The Zajac Ranch, established by Mel Zajac, was originally established to help serve children with serious and chronic illnesses, as well as those with disabilities, by offering specialized summer camps.

With the addition of the new Therapeutic Riding Program the Ranch is now closer to its ultimate goal of providing year-round services for children with a wide variety of special medical needs and conditions including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, and psychological disorders.

“Horseback riding is always a favourite activity during our summer medical camps,” says chairman, Mel Zajac. “When we discovered that the existing Therapeutic Riding Programs in the Lower Mainland had waiting lists of over a year, we decided to create our own and maximize the potential use of our facilities.”

Participants in the Therapeutic Riding Program range between the ages of 7 and 17, and are referred to the Ranch by a medical doctor. Once admitted to the program, a rider will typically enjoy a series of bi-weekly sessions led by Linda Smith, a certified instructor with the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) and Equestrian Director at the Ranch.

“The program is designed to build on the skills, abilities and capacities of each child and give them an opportunity to concentrate on their abilities, not their disabilities,” says Smith.

“The Envision Charitable Foundation is pleased to partner with the Zajac Ranch to make this life-changing program possible,” says Seline Kutan, Envision Charitable Foundation Executive Director. “There are so many physical, psychological and social benefits of therapeutic riding. It’s amazing to see the way an activity like horseback riding can change a child’s world and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

The movement of the horse provides a unique stretching of the rider’s muscles, reaching areas that cannot be affected by traditional physiotherapy. Meanwhile, the physical process of riding itself requires a level of emotional control and concentration that is very beneficial for children with special needs. And of course there are social benefits as well as the riders improve their communication skills and build relationships with the instructor and volunteer helpers.

But as Linda Smith points out, the Program can ultimately benefit the whole community. “The realization that a disabled child can participate in an activity as challenging as horseback riding can alter their peers’ and family members’ perception of disabled people in general,” she says. “A healthier, happier, more confident child leads to more positive family and classroom relations, and can reduce reliance on conventional medical services.”

The Zajac Ranch is located on the shores of Stave Lake and serves children with serious and chronic illnesses and disabilities. The Zajac Ranch seeks to normalize and enhance the lives of the children that attend camp by offering innovative and unique programs in a caring and supportive environment. For more information, visit