Islanders Working to Create a Community Space for Horse Activities

When I arrived on Salt Spring as a super awkward 12 year old I was homesick and lonely. Luckily, I had been promised more horse time and even my own horse one day to help sooth the sting of immigrating. I immediately began riding lessons with Jacky Cooper and joined the local Pony Club. At that time there was a booming community of “horsey” kids and we were a very active club.

When we went to regional and provincial competitions, the SSI Pony Club was known for its outstanding horsemanship and we almost always won the horsemanship award! We were asked by other clubs how we managed to create such a cohesive and co-operative group and I believe our biggest asset was having a central barn where we all had our horses together. As a club we moved several times to different facilities until we most recently lost our beloved stables on St Mary’s lake, a blow we have not been able to recover from.

Since the loss of our last home, the equine community has scattered and many have been forced to take their horses off island. There is no longer an active, booming Pony Club and other organisations have also suffered.

Being a member of the equine community massively impacted the adult I became. Having a horse taught me responsibility, compassion and trust. Being a team member of the Pony Club taught me valuable team work skills, honesty and commitment. The confidence and empowerment I gained from working with my horse launched me into a brilliant life of adventure for which I am so grateful for.

Horses impacted my life so drastically that I decided to become an Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) and Conscious Riding Coach. I believe Equine Assisted Learning and Therapy is a powerful and effective approach to empowering people. Learning through experiences with horses has an immediate and lasting impact. You feel the results in real time which makes it easier to implement new skills in your day to day life. Several research studies have shown the far reaching effects of EFL, especially with those suffering from trauma or PTSD, addicts, incarcerated individuals and other vulnerable members of society.

In part because we lack a facility here, I have been living off-island. I would like nothing more than remain on the island and roll out community programs so that island residents can benefit from EFL and other horse activities. I would love to inject life back into the SSI Pony Club and offer all children here the chance to spend time with horses. I would love to co-create a beautiful space here where all residents can come together to experience the magic of horses in any way they desire.

I am not alone with my desires! A small group of passionate islanders created the Gulf Islands Horse Association (GIHA) and have been working diligently towards establishing a community owned equestrian centre here on Salt Spring. They have been working hard to ensure they complete their due diligence and pass through the appropriate channels. We are currently executing a feasibility study and we want your input! We welcome and encourage suggestions and comments regarding a community owned equestrian facility. Perhaps you have ideas about a location or about collaborations we should pursue.

I am passionate about the work I do and I am so grateful that I grew up here. I want to give back to this community and help create the same experiences I benefited from. I believe that with GIHA and the support of this dynamic community, we can create a space of possibility, an equestrian centre that would enrich the lives of residents and ensure that every person here has the chance to experience what horses have to offer. I encourage you to visit GIHA’s website: and consider supporting us in any way you can, we welcome any questions or suggestions!

Juliana Sliwowska
Founder of Conscious Equine Connections

June 12, 2020 1:06 PM

  • Charley M says:

    Wonderful article Juliana! Thank you for sharing this. I and my family totally support GIHA and the efforts to create a community owned and run equine centre for Salt Spring and the other nearby gulf islands. There are young people I've met who have made it through to graduate high school because of their involvement at an equine centre and who are alive today because of horses. I sincerely hope that GIHA can find the land and the funding or donors needed to make this happen as soon as possible!

  • Juliana Sliwowska says:

    Thank you so much for your support and kind words Charley! I completely agree that horses can play a vital role, life changing even, to anyone struggling in their life, especially children and teens growing up! Let’s hope we succeed with our plans and create a center here that the island will cherish forever!