The World as Seen from Horseback

June 16, 1994

Astride a horse, the world is a much different, more wonderful place. Even more so for those with disabilities that limit their mobility and activities.

"Horseback riding is a great equalizer," points out instructor Karen Scott of the Carroll County Therapeutic Riding for the Handicapped program. "You could have someone who is ambulatory, walks with braces or uses a wheelchair, and you don't know the difference."

Therapeutic horse riding and driving programs are helping hundreds of physically and mentally handicapped persons throughout Maryland to expand their experiences, develop motor skills and balance and increase self-esteem.

Using specially trained horses and experienced therapist-instructors, the programs teach skills that range from slow walking around an enclosed ring to synchronized drill team routines and competitive activities that will send participants to the equestrian events at the Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games to be held tomorrow at Towson State University.

The diverse programs may be sponsored by 4-H Clubs, private foundations or local recreation councils. They are held at riding stables, school campuses, farms and public facilities. The Maryland Council of Equestrian Therapies (P.O. Box 5176) in Laurel acts as an information clearinghouse.

"There is a desperate need for volunteers to keep them running, it's a lot of hard work," says Kitsi Christmas, council president. Volunteers serve as sidewalkers, handlers and groomers. Donations of money and equipment keep the lessons affordable. Horses are often loaned to the programs.

A major goal for a number of these programs is an indoor arena that would allow their operation year-round and reduce the waiting lists: one such facility is being built in Glenwood by the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center of Lisbon. Last winter's groundbreaking was attended by James S. Brady, the former White House aide who was disabled in the assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan, and who now rides regularly at a D.C. therapy center.

The joy and the pride of this breed of equestrians is reflected in a poem of John Anthony Davis:

I saw a child who could only crawl/ mount a horse and sit up tall/ put it through degrees of paces/ and laugh at the wonder on our faces.

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