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Posts Tagged ‘therapeutic riding

Zenyatta: Hippotherapy in the Shedrow

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Being the greatest race mare in history isn’t enough for Zenyatta. She also acts as a therapeutic partner for a child with autism, as The Blood-Horse reports.

Courtesy Santa Anita press

Step back for a second and consider whether or not you’d just fearlessly walk up to a 17 hand, fighting-fit Thoroughbred racehorse.

And then imagine the 5 year-old boy who does so.

Jack, who has autism and lives, as his father says, “in a distant world,” loves Zenyatta. A lot of us love Zenyatta – but it’s unlikely that she’d allow anyone else the closeness that she affords Jack – not knowing how to pet her, trainer John Shirreffs explains, Jack pokes his finger into her side and screams to express his happiness.

Jack’s father says that just mentioning Zenyatta makes the distant child “glow with happiness and jump up and down.”

Nationally, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has more than 6,300 equines on its rosters, from minis to mules and every sort of breed in between, and in 2009 NARHA organizations assisted more than 40,000 participants. Interestingly, autism was the number one special need served by NARHA centers. Rapidly growing in diagnosis and still a mystery in its many forms, children with autism seem especially attuned to horses – and horses to them.

Zenyatta’s acceptance of this little boy in her life is just one more example of that old saying: horses know.


Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 26, 2010 at 12:56 am

Guardedly Optimistic, the Horses Trot On

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With a good response to the weekend’s open house, frequent editorials in the Orlando Sentinel, and local television news coverage, Freedom Ride can feel “guardedly optimistic” that they stand a chance of continuing their mission of helping Central Florida’s citizens with special needs.

This morning I spoke with Robin Baker, Freedom Ride’s Volunteer Coordinator. The more people that are paying attention and showing support, she says, the better the outlook for Freedom Ride is.

Many people who came to the Open House had no connection to horses at all. “People just came out to support us, from what they’d read.” People were generous with donations as well, and in promising to wear the free “Freedom Ride” hats and shirts to publicize and show support for the non-profit.

The tidy shedrow sits just a few miles from downtown Orlando.

Discussions are going on this week within City Hall that could determine the future plans for Trotters Park. In the meantime, the online petition is still collecting signatures, and the media continues to cover the mayor’s comedic waffling.

From mid-February, Scott Maxwell, the Sentinel’s political columnist, shares Orlando’s colorful history of inside deals and croneyism, illustrating with Orlando’s Safety Council:

For two decades, the council has operated in a city-owned building near Orlando Executive Airport, offering classes on everything from safe driving and workplace safety to victim awareness.

Then somebody else decided they wanted to use the Safety Council’s building. And that somebody happened to be a high-ranking city official: Deputy City Attorney Jody Litchford.

Apparently Litchford’s co-workers thought her idea was a dandy one. So they booted out a rent-paying tenant — eight years before the lease was up – for one that would move in rent-free for the first few years.

The deal was done with no fanfare, no announcements, no bidding – and losing rents costs the city about $200,000 over 3 years. A drop in the bucket for a city that is cheerfully laying off police, fire, and education professionals; the city insists that the space, now occupied by a charter school, will eventually turn a profit. Because so many charter schools are successful? Hmm.

Freedom Ride’s story isn’t new in Orlando, the City of Who You Know. But the decision to pick on the disabled is even lower-class than usual. As long as Central Florida, horsemen, parents, anyone who believes that people with special-needs deserve better than to be kicked out for non-existent ball field, maintain the pressure on the city, Freedom Ride can be a success story, instead of one more victim of Orlando’s exclusive City Hall.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

Orlando vs. Freedom Ride

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A horse that makes a difference.

When the city government starts picking on kids with special needs, you know the world’s gone off the deep end. In Orlando, which is of course the arbiter of all things progressive, a highly popular and centrally located therapeutic riding center – and the last vestiges of a historical equestrian park – are about to be wiped off the map. By a city desperate to cut costs, another sign of our desperate economy? No, actually, by a city that sometime in the future maybe might want to use the space for soccer fields.

Fortunately, the typical apathy of Central Floridians has not extended to allowing the city of Orlando to get away with this act. And while Mayor Buddy Dyer managed to get in some pot-shots at the organization while doing so, he did agree that they don’t necessarily maybe possibly have to go right the instant their current lease expired.

Freedom Ride struck back by welcoming the community to an open house over the weekend, showing off their beautiful facility, with its white painted fences, reminiscent of the old days when they weren’t occupants of the last training barn standing in the sprawling Ben White Raceway, once the southern hub of Standardbred training. More than 100 people each month are assisted here by fourteen horses and about one hundred volunteers. With its central location just a few miles off the main artery of Central Florida, I-4, participants from all over the area can easily reach the riding center, unlike many rural farms.

During the open house, business was proceeding as usual. Children were purposefully striding about in field boots, carrying saddles and bridles, checking the white board in the tack room for horse assignments. An older woman in an electric wheelchair motored about, patting the horses that came to their stall doors. Militant locals in breeches and blue jeans showed up to rail against the city politics and pledge their support and even tracts of land outside town that could be used for a new program. Parents showed up to volunteer or even to sign up their children for the program, which assists people with a multitude of special needs, including autism, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy.

Artwork from the heart.

What truly made Freedom Ride stand out from a typical lesson barn, though, was the artwork. Arts and crafts is always an integral part of hippotherapy, and on display were the drawings and collages that children had made describing what the horses meant for them. “They help me come out of my shell” in a thought bubble above a smiling little girl on horseback, purposefully colored in crayon. “Titan” as a word used in a collage of how horses made a boy feel. With the devastating simplicity that children demonstrate on a regular basis, the case for Freedom Ride’s continued presence in Orlando should have been easily made.

All good causes have an online petition. You can find Freedom Ride’s here.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm