Sitting tall in the saddle helps youngster stand tall on his own


May 18, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOURTH-GRADER Patrick McCardell will gladly explain all he knows about "equitation" -- the proper way to ride a horse in a competitive environment.

The 9-year-old has been studying it for months.

Patrick, a student at Waterloo Elementary School, is one of six members of the Special Olympics Howard County equestrian team.

Since mid-March, the team has been practicing every Friday night at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center in Glenwood.

Patrick has a form of high-functioning autism, a developmental disorder. The need to control his mount through body movements and the discipline of caring for the animal has helped improve his ability to function in the classroom.

Easily overstimulated by his environment, Patrick has problems with normal social interactions. Loud noises and jostling in a crowded school hallway can be terrifying for him.

But riding has been relaxing and gives him pleasure that carries over into his school day.

Since he started the program, Patrick's reading skills have gone up a grade level. His handwriting and his behavior in school and at home have improved, too.

An occupational therapist who works with Patrick at school has reported to the family that his balance -- once a problem -- also has improved.

He is learning to set goals and follow through to achieve them.

One of his riding coaches, Bay Cockburn, is impressed by how quickly the lad climbs back onto his mount after taking an unexpected spill -- with hugs and encouragement, of course.

Patrick takes his work with horses very seriously. He knows that caring for them is an important job.

Brushing, feeding and picking dirt out of their hoofs is the least of it.

Saddles and tack must be cleaned and stored properly. Then there is the job of mucking out the stalls -- keeping the animals supplied with fresh bedding -- which Patrick seems to enjoy more than anything.

The experience of riding is made possible for Patrick and other children through the generous help of local horse owners and dedicated volunteers.

Helen Tuel and her husband, John, operate the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center on 55 acres in Glenwood. They have been providing a place for children and adults to experience the joy of riding for 16 years.

Cockburn and his wife, Crissy, have been providing training for the Special Olympics equestrian team.

Last Friday, the Cockburns -- owners of Oatlands, a 112-acre farm near Brookeville in Montgomery County -- let the kids use their farm to practice equitation in real-life situations with other riders who take lessons there. The Cockburns also help train the team at the Glenwood center.

Bay Cockburn, a horseman and fox hunter in his native England, came here 10 years ago with the idea of "taking a look at America for a just few years."

He quickly found work teaching Americans the finer points of steeplechase and riding technique, earning a reputation as a top trainer. And he decided to stay.

He enjoys getting out in the ring with his students, showing them how to improve their riding posture and leg position.

A serious riding accident last year left him paralyzed. Now he coaches from a wheelchair.

"It's a bit of a challenge," Cockburn says about his new teaching style, "but the kids take it well and the ponies don't seem to mind."

The McCardells, who live in Owen Brown, learned about the Special Olympics last spring at an information night at Waterloo Elementary School.

Reading through the Special Olympics literature, the McCardells scanned all the options until Patrick said he found the prospect of working with horses interesting.

Patrick says his favorite horse is "whatever horse they put me on." His mount for the competition will be an Arabian gelding named King William -- courtesy of the Cockburns.

Special Olympics Howard County provides year-round training and competitive sports programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Training is also offered in aquatics, basketball, bowling, cycling, golf, skiing and soccer.

The Maryland Special Olympics competition will be held June 4, 5, and 6 at the University of Maryland, College Park. Equestrian events are scheduled June 5.

Information or to volunteer: 410-740-0500.

Helping neighbors

East Columbians Helping Others (ECHO) will hold a Longaberger Basket Bingo to benefit the Roche family from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Road in Columbia.

Bob Roche, a Catholic Relief Services worker, was struck by a car as he stepped off a bus on his way home from work in December 1997.

Since the accident, he has been in a coma at a Baltimore nursing facility.

Daughter Melissa, 15, a student at Oakland Mills High School, says, "He is going to another hospital for eight weeks of physical therapy, and then he will be coming home."

ECHO is a community organization formed by students, business people and professionals to assist the Roche family.

The organization is growing and has expanded its mission to helping others in the area who are facing serious difficulties.

Information: 410-992-7917.

Guilford cares

Guilford Elementary School third-graders are donating their extra snack money to help others.

On May 1, the children mailed a check for $60 to AmeriCares in New Canaan, Conn., for the Kosovar refugees.

"The kids really, really enjoy doing it," said instructional assistant Candy Beck, who facilitated the collection and donation of the money.

"It has spurred parents to do more," she added.

The collection period for each cause is about three weeks. Causes include a wide range of concerns, from endangered species to disaster victims.

Currently, the kids are collecting money for survivors of the recent Midwest tornadoes.

The funds are distributed through AmeriCares because the organization, which operates with a low overhead, is able to distribute about 96 percent of the money directly to the charity.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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