Jade Dykstra cared for horses at a local horse rescue and was surprised at how the horses supported her with her mental health struggles. This led to her starting Lasting Strides Equine Assisted Learning.
As a young girl, Dykstra was fascinated with horses. This fascination inspired her to volunteer at Dare to Dream Horse Rescue in Dalemead, Alta. It was there she met the first horse that she would own.
“She was a very aggressive horse and had a lot of issues with lashing out,” Dykstra says. There was one particular moment where she kicked out during a training session and almost kicked me in the face; she was centimetres away.”
Rather than respond with fear, Dykstra saw herself in the horse’s action.
“She was just mirroring my emotions toward her so vividly,” Dykstra says. “It was a really powerful moment for me to realize that I need to get my emotions under control and that horses can help people figure that out.”
Dykstra, with a history of battling anxiety, depression and temper issues, began to research how horses can help people with mental health and life skill development. This led her into the field of equine-assisted learning.
In April 2015, she founded her own business, Lasting Strides Equine-Assisted Learning. On her ranch near Delacour, Alta., Dykstra serves 20 clients with a herd of 12 horses including her very first, Gem.
Dykstra now operates Lasting Strides as a certified Equine Assisted Learning Canada coach. Even so, she is quick to highlight the horses as ‘the ones doing the healing and teaching here’, while she coaches clients to read the horses’ emotions as their own.
“I’m there for people to be their safe space and I’m there to help them find their self-growth discoveries,” says Dykstra.
Dykstra’s clientele has expanded over the years. Couples can come for date nights while people with autism and students with learning challenges can find support in the horses.
“Not all of our sessions are heavy and deep,” Dykstra says. “We’ve incorporated math into our lessons. Reading is always less intimidating to an animal, when a horse is nuzzling your face. It takes a lot of pressure away as the kids have to learn pronunciation.”
To incorporate new clients, the program has broadened to emphasize both working on and off the horses.
“We’re learning so much more both on the mental health side and on the horse training side.”
Dykstra is excited to adopt this new knowledge into her own business, even if she is uncertain of how it will look.
“This was my 10-year plan that all of a sudden turned into a two-year plan.”
The ranch is currently at capacity for horses and new clients are being put on a waiting list. But Dykstra is at peace as she heads out to feed Gem and the rest of the herd, on a frosty September afternoon.
“I started with a horse and a field. I’m gonna let it grow organically and see where that takes me.”
- By Jordan Constantine