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.

"Horses give the handicapped person a feeling of freedom and independence," says Barbara Busch-Meyers, who runs the Therapeutic Riding Special Interest Group program for children at Normandy Farms in Harford County.

Equestrian therapy programs can stimulate these riders to build self-confidence, improve concentration and enhance self-discipline, she notes.

"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 their self-esteem.

Using specially trained horses and experienced therapist-instructors, the 19 independent 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. 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. A major goal for a number of these programs is an indoor arena that would allow their operation year-round: a Catonsville facility at the Patapsco Horse Center expects to open this summer, a new center is being built in Howard County and the Carroll program has started a building fund for an arena at that county's Agricultural Center.

The joy and the pride of these special 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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