LISBON — Get-well cards arrive every day addressed to Jerry Mallon at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center in Howard County.
Jerry, an 18-year-old pony, is recovering from a near-fatal attack of colic.
Many of those cards are from the nearly 100 Carroll County students who have learned to ride at the center and developed a deep affection for Jerry, said owner Helen S. Tuel, who directs the center with her husband, John.
"I find myself signing 'Jerry' to thank-you notes," she said. "He is especially good with beginners, so many students know him."
Since his arrival three years ago, Jerry has earned all the affection being lavished on him, she added.
"I would like to have him at my house," said Sterling Eaton, 9, of Woodbine, who recommends the horse to other children at the center. "I was really upset when he got sick."
Since the Eatons own and board horses themselves, Sterling said he can speak with some experience. He called Jerrya "really smooth" horse.
"When you are trotting on Jerry, he knows what to do," he pupil said. "You don't bounce up and down."
If affection and good wishes were the only ingredients needed to spur Jerry's recovery, he would be back in the stables right now. Surgery andcomplications from his attack resulted in a $20,000 veterinary bill.
Tuel said she let her heart guide her when faced with the decision of extensive surgery or putting the horse down.
She didn't want to have to tell disabled children that dollars determined his destiny.
"You can't easily replace a horse of his disposition and training," she said. "He is worth his weight in gold and loved by so many children."
Sterling's mother, Karen, who frequently volunteers at the center, agreed with Tuel.
"The horse business is not like Ford or Chrysler," she said. "Jerry is a well-schooled horse, suitable for any rider."
The children at the center, which has 31 horses, describe the gray-white pony as having soft eyes and a sweet expression. Jerry helps the riders learn to trot and canter and sometimes jump. Tuel called him a "great baby-sitter," who can cope with mixed signals from the children.
"What's unique about him is that he can be understanding to a disabled rider," she said. "It's wonderful for their self-confidence and physical well-being."
For children dependent oncrutches, braces, walkers or wheelchairs, "he's a whole different world for them. A lot of these children love the speed, they love just moving," she said.
Brian Cook, 14, a physically and developmentally disabled student from Mount Airy, has progressed tremendously during his weekly lessons at the center, said his mother, Barbara.
"Riding helped him increase his attention span and helped straighten a slight curvature in his spine," she said. "The center should do all it can to keep Jerry."
The Tuels said they don't regret their decision, but the expense threatens to drain the riding center of its scholarship fund, which provided $20,000 in riding lessons and physical therapy to about 125 disabled children last year.
"We're going to have to cut back on everything," Helen said. "Fewer people are going to be able to receive assistance."
Several people have come to the center's rescue, donating $3,500 to help defray the bill. The equine center has extended credit for 12 months. One pharmaceutical company gave the center a $700 credit.
But the center, which operates solelyon donations and fees and receives no government grants, still needsabout $16,000.