Tim Ansell watches with pride as his 18-year-old daughter, Hillary, rides past during a lesson at High Point Equestrian Centre on Wednesday. The Ansell family was visiting Langley from Kelowna after the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted them a surprise horse-themed package. In addition to the riding lesson, Hillary, who has cystic fibrosis, also received a shopping spree at Langley’s The Dog & Pony Shop, a new saddle for her horse, and many other equine gifts.

A wish come true for passionate horseback rider

The Ansell family thought they were coming to Langley for a horse gear shopping spree, but soon found out there were more surprises in store

Tim Ansell was at a loss for words as he watched his 18-year-old daughter, Hillary, and Salero, an 18-year-old Andalusian horse, parade around the riding ring at High Point Equestrian Centre on Wednesday morning.

Despite what doctors have repeatedly told him, Tim believes horseback riding has been one of the best treatments for Hillary’s cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease that causes complications to the digestive system and lungs.

“She probably spends five days a week with her horse in Kelowna … Horses have been really good for Hillary. They are very therapeutic, both physically and mentally,” Tim said, as he proudly watched Hillary ride.

“Most of the doctors say she shouldn’t be involved with the horses, but I really do feel that the benefits to the jarring of her lungs have way outweighed the little bit of dust.”

Tim, Hillary, and her best friend Jaimee Wyte were visiting Langley from Kelowna thanks to a grant made by the Make-A-Wish Foundation B.C. & Yukon.

Hillary comes to Vancouver four times a year for appointments at Children’s Hospital, and since she was young, has been asked by Make-A-Wish if she would like to be involved — an offer she always declined. But two years ago, Hillary’s mother passed away, and when she was asked again if she would like to take part, she changed her mind and said she would love to.

Self-described as a “horse-crazy girl,” Hillary decided to make her wish a riding gear shopping spree.

The foundation then contacted Nina Urff (pictured left), owner of The Dog & Pony Shop equestrian store in Brookswood, to make this a reality.

But what Hillary and her family didn’t know, was that on top of receiving her once-in-a-lifetime shopping blitz, she was also getting a surprise one-on-one riding lesson with renowned dressage rider and coach Wendy Christoff at High Point, and a custom-made saddle for her horse from Langley saddle maker Lesley McGill.

“I have this passion for giving back to the equestrian community because it’s given a lot to our family, so I started thinking about what extra things we could do to make the day special for her,” said Urff.

Some of those extras include a signed Olympic hoodie and pin from Langley Olympian Leslie Reid, a new helmet donated by Charles Owens & Co. and a free video of Hillary’s riding lesson.

While she was raising her own daughter, Urff says countless people in the community gave them opportunities to advance in the equine world — from friends making horses available to them to ride, to coaches and organizations such as Equine Canada.

“We’ve enjoyed a really nice quality of life out here through the horse community, so it’s nice to be able to give something back,” Urff said.

“I hope this becomes the most special day for (Hillary). She sounds like she’s a pretty horse crazy girl … I am very lucky I have a lot of really good friends I can call on to do stuff like this. And everybody, as soon as I asked them, they said they would be there.”

Both Tim and Hillary were overwhelmed with the generosity of the local businesses, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“It’s humbling — I don’t really know how to describe it. I mean, (Hillary) is very fortunate, and I am very thankful,” Tim said.

“I would really, really like to thank everyone involved — the folks here and the Wish Foundation — to do this for Hillary and make her experience what it was.”

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