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A Visit with Donna Alward

Donna Alward is a chapter mate of mine in Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. She is one of the warmest-hearted people I’ve ever met, and that warmth comes through in the contemporary romances she writes for Harlequin. Donna and I share a love of rugged cowboys (Who doesn’t?), happy endings and pets – particularly Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. Her Dreamer and my Echo could be sisters. We also share a fondness for horses.

I believe it was Will Rogers who said that “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” The hero of Donna’s recent release, SLEIGH RIDE WITH THE RANCHER, puts this wisdom into practice by offering riding therapy to physically challenged children. Here’s Donna to tell us all about it!


There are all kinds of therapy in the world, and I would guess it’s because there are all different sorts of problems that require it. After all, we have physical issues that need addressing. Or perhaps it’s a mental illness that requires help, or something on an emotional level. Life presents challenges, and most of us, at some time or another, could use a helping hand.

I’ve done a few types of therapy – I had cognitive therapy while wrestling with Post Partum Depression – and that means yes, I had a psychiatrist. I also had a support group that I belonged to for a short while as I got my feet underneath myself again. I’ve had physiotherapy on my arm and my shoulder, and massage therapy on repetitive strain problem areas.

The thing with therapy is that there are wonderfully endless modes of delivery. In my current release, SLEIGH RIDE WITH THE RANCHER, I focus on equine riding therapy for disabled kids.

Blake Nelson, the hero of the story, runs a small therapeutic ranch in the foothills of the Rockies. Injured and disfigured as a child, Blake’s particularly affected by kids who are “different”. Helping them manage their problems and giving them the confidence to face life each day brings him a lot of joy and a sense of doing something important with his life.

I had to do a bit of research to get up to speed on using horses as therapy, and I learned some neat stuff – like what someone needs to do to become an Equine Therapy instructor, how they get their facility certified and what sorts of issues the therapy addresses. It was so interesting and wonderful to see and read about children dealing with things like autism and cerebral palsy who were taking part in these programs and seeing real benefits.

The cool thing about therapeutic riding is that it provides more than one specific benefit. For those with physical disabilities, it can help with mobility, strength, coordination. So, for example, with my character Cate, riding helps with her strength, posture, and core strength since she has a mild case of cerebral palsy and cannot walk without crutches.

I also introduce a pair of children who have autism, and how riding not only benefits them physically but that they learn how to communicate with the horse, and by doing their lessons together they work on socialization, verbal skills, and motor skills. They don’t just ride – they’re responsible for helping with their mount too. They learn how to care for an animal, work together… and by doing something that is FUN.

I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg about Therapeutic Riding, but if you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CANTRA) site. CANTRA is part of the Federation of Riding for Disabled International, and is responsible for proper certification for instructors and facilities.

SLEIGH RIDE WITH THE RANCHER is out now, and is the second book in the HOLIDAY MIRACLES trilogy that I wrote along with Fiona Harper and Shirley Jump. You can get all three books here. And please stop by my website at !


  1. Sara Hubbard
    November 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Great post, Donna! This story sounds both amazing and educational. I am really looking forward to reading it!

  2. Julia Phillips Smith
    November 3, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Fellow duck toller fan over here! Donna, I really like how you’ve written about characters with big challenges whose physical or emotional issues don’t overwhelm the story, but give the relationship so much more resonance. I hope there’s more of these types of characters to look forward to.

  3. Renee Field
    November 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I can’t wait to read this book and it’s perfect timing as I know all about therapy. I think support groups, friends and family are key to for many. I don’t know what I’d do without my RWAC gals! I’m a huge Donna Alward fan! And my mother just visited and took all your books so she can read them now.

  4. jennie
    November 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I think a lot of people underestimate the power of animals to heal us, emotionally and physically. As for riding, it uses joints and muscles that aren’t easy to exercse any other way. I’ll never forget how I felt the day after my first 20-mile trail ride!

    Donna, thanks so much for being here today. This book is a must for my holiday reading list. Sleigh rides, ranchers, horses. It’s all there.

  5. Anne MacFarlane
    November 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Donna, what a fascinating topic. I love horses and riding so it doesn’t surprise me that they’re used as therapy. Can’t wait to read your book.

  6. Magi Nams
    November 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Animals have always been big in my life, and I can totally relate to their importance for both physical and emotional therapy. My husky-samoyed cross Sky accompanied me through fifteen years of life and travel, and I’ll never forget him. Great site, Jennie, and Sleigh Ride with the Ranch sounds like a wonderful Christmas read, Donna.

  7. Tanya Hanson
    November 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Great post, Donna and Jennie. I can’t wait to read this. I’ve got therapy riding in Angel Child, it’s such a terrific program. Hope you both have a wonderful weekend!

  8. Shawna
    November 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    This sounds great. Love the holiday cover, too!