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Therapeutic program picks up pace

May 29, 1998|By DON AINES

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Therapeutic Riding

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It started 17 years ago with an acre of land, three horses and five students. Now the Franklin County Therapeutic Riding Center has more than 50 students and a long waiting list.

Next week a new riding ring will open at the center on Franklin Farm Lane, according to Susan Rotz of Fayetteville, Pa., the stable manager and a riding instructor. She is among the people who donate their time for the all-volunteer 4-H program.

"The unique part of this is the collaboration of several levels of government," Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said Thursday. The center is on county-owned land and the ring is being built with a $17,500 federal grant administered by the county.

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Guilford Township Supervisor and Road Superintendent Jay Bower and two township employees have been building the ring, under which is a layer of crushed slate donated by the Borough of Chambersburg.

Creating the new ring isn't just a matter of building an oval fence. Kessler said the ground has to be graded, then covered with several layers of slate, stone, filter and landscaping fabric that are rolled level and topped with wood chips.

In the past, state legislative grants from state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, have been used to build the indoor ring and handicapped-accessible restrooms, Elliott said.

"We could probably exist on $15,000 in donations. Last year we got $25,000," said Franklin County Extension Agent Robert Kessler. Beyond grants, Kessler said the program exists on donated funds and services, including a veterinarian and blacksmith who give of their time.

Along with two outdoor and one indoor ring, the center now has 24 acres, most of it pasture land for the eight horses boarded there.

"My daughter was probably 4 when she started here. She's 16 now," Commissioner Robert Thomas said Thursday of his daughter Kelly.

"I have a niece that has cerebral palsy and she was interested in becoming a student," said Rotz, who got involved in the program in 1982. At 21, Elli Kegerreis of Chambersburg is still in the program and her mother Julie, a physical therapy assistant, has been a riding instructor for 10 years.

"The motion of the horse will activate the students' muscles the same way as when we are walking," Rotz said of the physically handicapped riders. Riding helps strengthen atrophied muscles, improve muscular control and loosen joints and muscles, she said.

For mentally and emotionally handicapped riders, "It helps a lot with self-confidence, self-esteem. It just makes you feel good," Rotz said.

Beyond physical and mental therapy, the center also provides recreation for children and young adults who often don't have much of a social life.

With a grant from Summit Health Alliance, the center will soon have a program for those who cannot ride. Rotz said that money will be used for a horse cart program.

While there will be more room for riders, Rotz said the center can always use more volunteers. She said riders usually work with three people - an instructor who teaches them riding techniques and two "sidewalkers" who help make sure riders don't fall off.

The center is open from April to October, five days a week. Rotz said it could be open one more day if there wasn't a shortage of instructors. Qualification courses for instructors are offered at Wilson College in Chambersburg, she said.

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