Local horse enthusiasts brought the country into town on Sunday. The West Brooke Pony Club held its first annual Toy Ride and spectators witnessed several horses and riders parade through the streets.
Organizers were happy with the turnout and the overall goal of collecting goods for the less fortunate.
"We want to be able to give back and encourage the kids to do their part," said Shawna Wells, owner of West Brooke Equestrian Centre. "We opened it up to the Valley to make it a city event."
Starting at Glenwood Centre, nine horses and riders were escorted by the RCMP down Roger Street, up Wallace Street, along 8th and 10th avenues and back to Glenwood Centre, where they had hot drinks and treats waiting. They collected donations along the way, filling the lead car, driven by Darlene Coulson.
The toys and food will be donated locally and the cash will support the local Jumpstart program.
"I think it is important that we are bringing awareness to horses and that the agricultural life in the Valley is thriving," Wells said. "That's why we brought the horses to the city."
Just as important, the youth were able to grasp the concept of giving back.
"Volunteering can be an odd concept to grasp for a young person, giving something and not expecting anything in return," said Colleen Jansma, a mother of participants and a long-time member of the Pony Club. "Ask a young person to donate their time or energy and the first question they ask is, 'Why?'. Then they see the smile on the little kid's face or the elderly person and they get it. All they had to do was 'be', and in the case of the Toy Ride, share their love of horses with the community. They saw the smiles of the appreciative spectators and heard how thrilled the recipients of the donations were. The understanding of humanity and compassion takes off. Perhaps they will go on and become adult volunteers."
"I got to see how one small group made a difference," said Jansma's 12-year old daughter, Chelsea. "As individuals, we didn't do much but together the people watching smiled and the people we raised food, money and toys for were very happy."
Fourteen year old Alison Weber agreed.
"Port Alberni is a great community and all kids should have the opportunity to follow his or her dream," she said.
Into its second year, the Pony Club was revived from years past largely in part to Jansma. She approached Wells about the idea of bring it back and a natural partnership formed.
"Colleen approached me and said she wanted to do it," Wells said. "I always enjoyed the Pony Club and what it teaches. Colleen's push encouraged me to help and get it going. I have the riding school so it goes hand in hand."
The Club is open to riders aged six to 21 and focuses on horsemanship and riding skills, as well as caring for the animals. Based on the three-day eventing format, including dressage, cross-country and show jumping, local youth will have the opportunity to travel over the next year.
"There are events all over the Island at the local level and it goes from regional, provincial and national," Wells said. "They can go quite far."
The group meets three times a month and is chaired by parents of the riders. The Toy Ride coincided with a break before Christmas.
For Jansma, the event was a chance for her to give back to the community from an organization that provided her with skills and knowledge during her formative years. Now she is watching her own daughters benefit from their participation in the Club.
"Horses are magical animals," she said. "I can't believe how lucky I am to still have horses in my life and be able to share that passion with my daughters. I feel doubly blessed. For people who don't have easy access or can't ever see being able to get their kids involved with horses, there are ways. The Jumpstart program through Canadian Tire and the Pony Club are perfect examples."
As for the Toy Ride, she has plans to make next year's event even bigger.
"It was great for our first year and the weather cooperated," Jansma said. "We had just enough horses out and everyone stayed on the right side of their horses. Some people came out to watch and donate and we collected cans along the way. It was a success in my books and we are already looking forward to next year."