Jaxon the horse provokes a big student smile. BRENDA LANGENDOEN

Horse Cents For Kids is a relatively new charity. The after-school program takes place on Friday evenings and focuses on working with low-income youth ages eight to 14. They are given the opportunity to experience farm life, learn life skills and build relationships, and take care of and learn to ride horses. Improving mental health, wellbeing and building confidence of participants is a beneficial outcome of the program.

“It’s so special and it’s so unique and so I just want to be able to offer it to kids that would not normally ever have this opportunity,” said Brenda Langendoen, Executive Director of Horse Cents For Kids and co-owner of B’N’R Stables, where the program is located.

Horse Cents For Kids is partnered with different organizations to find children who would benefit from the program. They work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of South Niagara and Niagara Falls, as well as the District School Board of Niagara to find students from schools in lower-income areas who may be interested.

“The [school] councillors really know the kids and which ones could benefit from this type of program, so that’s how we’ve selected the kids in the past,” Langendoen said. “Working with people and other organizations that know the children and know their life situations better than we do, they can recommend them to our program.”

These kids, I think it’s just extra-powerful for them because it’s not something they ever thought or dreamt they could do

The inspiration for the program came from Langendoen’s own experience. For her, horseback riding has always helped with confidence and her own mental health. She’s taught horseback riding for some 25 years and has experienced firsthand the effect that horses can have on youth.

“I didn’t want to restrict it to just people that could afford it. These kids, I think it’s just extra-powerful for them because it’s not something they ever thought or dreamt they could do, and now they’re doing it, so it’s pretty cool.”

Langendoen added that it’s an environment where everyone is accepted for who they are and the horses don’t care about looks, popularity or income, which creates a stable environment for the children.

“A lot of times there’s a lot of fear obviously involved because these kids have never been around a horse, let alone on a horse. So working through the fear and then realizing that they can do it, as they gain the skills they’re now starting to do it on their own, without anybody helping them, and that’s so powerful. In those few moments, the transformation in them is so powerful, you see their confidence just soar.”

Back in the spring of 2019, the program partnered with Brock University for a pilot project which studied the impact that the animals had on the kids. For Langendoen it was a positive and impactful experience.

“We kinda knew it [already], but that gave even more validation to the program that we are offering.”

Leo the horse with student riders. BRENDA LANGENDOEN

Two years ago Horse Cents For Kids became a registered charity and just this fall they received their first grant, which came from the Niagara Community Foundation. They also have sponsorships through local businesses and individuals who donate to the cause.

The funding they receive helps make the program possible, providing transportation and dinner for participants, since some have no way of getting there and many don’t receive proper meals

on a regular basis. Each family also receives funding through Jump Start to help with costs for the program.

“If people are interested in helping to support the program we would like to expand it. Right now we’re only doing it one night a week and we’d really like to expand it to two nights a week,” said Langendoen.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the charity to make some changes but they managed to continue to run the program this autumn. The number of participants has remained the same, just split into smaller groups, and sessions have been shortened from three hours to an hour and a half. The main components, such as time with the horses and eating dinner, have not been affected.

“It is needed more than ever for the mental health and well-being of children,” said Langendoen. “The time they spend at the farm interacting with the horses is so powerful and life-changing.”


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