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Horse farm for disabled looking for volunteers

March 13, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On a warm sunny late winter day, Denny, Daisy, Brutus and other horses at the Franklin County Therapeutic Riding Center are literally out to pasture, a few weeks away from the day they will have to start earning their hay.

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The eight horses at the rider center for the disabled on Franklin Farm Lane will begin workouts with volunteers next month before the children and adults with disabilities take to the saddle. Volunteers and private donations are vital to keeping the program free to residents of Franklin, Fulton and Cumberland counties in Pennsylvania and Washington County, Md., according to Penn State Cooperative Extension Agent Robert Kessler.

"What we mostly need are people willing to spend a few hours here once a week in the afternoons and early evenings to assist the riders," Kessler said. "Ideally, they should be somewhat familiar with horses, or at least not afraid of them."

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For every rider and horse, there are at least two volunteers, according to Kessler. Leaders guide horses around the rings and "sidewalkers" look after the riders.

"The sidewalkers provide stability and safety in the saddle," Kessler said. "Most people with handicaps have trouble with balance, particularly if they are coming out of a wheelchair."

"It will really depend on the ability of the riders as to how many volunteers we need," said Stable Manager Susan Rotz of Fayetteville, Pa. She has been a volunteer for about 15 years and said there are other jobs for which volunteers are needed.

The program also needs volunteers to clean stalls and feed, and water and groom the horses. There's also a need for people to clean and maintain the horses' tack.

"We only want people who know what that means," she said. Tack are the often expensive saddles, bridles and other equipment for the horses, she said.

Rotz said people are also needed to tend the center's garden in honor of "riders who have passed away."

Training for leaders and sidewalkers will begin April 4 at 5 p.m., according to Melanie Mao of Chambersburg, a member of the program's board of directors. The training involves four afternoon sessions over six days, she said.

Mao said leaders should be at least 16 and experienced with horses, while sidewalkers should be at least 14 years of age. Those interested in volunteering for the program can call the center at 1-717-263-0443.

Established in 1982 by the Franklin County Easter Seals Society and the county's 4-H program, the center serves about 50 riders with sessions weekday evenings and Saturday mornings, Kessler said. In 1992 an indoor riding arena, physical therapy and tack rooms were added, and a second outdoor ring was added three years ago.

"It's a benefit and something that makes them feel normal," said Mao, whose daughter, Jennie, 21, has been riding since the late 1980s. She said the program helps improve the coordination, confidence and self-esteem of the riders.

Rotz said the center, on land donated by Franklin County, is also used by the riders as a place to socialize.

People with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome or other disabilities may not be able to play football, or baseball, but they can ride a horse, Kessler said.

"It's physical therapy, but it's also recreation," he said. "We try to teach these young people to ride within the scope of their ability."

"We do need money, but we need time - volunteer time," Mao said. Veterinary and blacksmith services are donated, and companies and individuals contribute about $7,000 a year to sponsor either a horse or rider.

The 2000 budget is $21,500 and $9,000 of that is for hay and grain. The horses are mostly donated, although Rotz said broken down nags need not apply.

"It's not easy work for the horse, either physically or mentally," she said. Along with riding horses like Denny, an 18-year-old Arabian, there are draft horses for heavier riders and the center's carriage program.

For riders whose disabilities cause physical deterioration over time, the carriage program allows more years working with the horses, Rotz said.

"It's difficult to say goodbye to them," she said about the riders.

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