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Gaylor is the steady star of service at equestrian center

October 07, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Star Equestrian Center Director Ginny Gaylor's unbridled dedication has anchored the success of the center near here.

A program of Anita Lynne Home, the center serves about 120 riders with and without disabilities. About 60 percent of the clients include children and adults with disabilities ranging from brain and spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy to autism, developmental disabilities and emotional and behavioral challenges, said Gaylor, 41, of Halfway.

She is Star's only paid employee, running the center with the help of about 65 volunteers.

"Ginny is just incredible," said Anita Lynne Home Executive Director Sharon Landis. "She's been very committed to the folks with disabilities, in particular."

Landis met Gaylor about 15 years ago when Gaylor was working for the Washington County Association for Retarded Citizens and teaching therapeutic riding lessons near Smithsburg.

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Landis hired Gaylor as a residential supervisor for Anita Lynne in 1988 with the hope of one day working with her to launch a therapeutic riding program for people with disabilities, she said.

"She shared the dream and she was willing to hang in there for 10 years until it came to fruition," Landis said. Star Equestrian Center opened in September 1998.

Gaylor has devoted herself to making the center successful - putting in long hours each week, and experimenting with new strategies to improve riders' abilities, volunteer barn manager Kristen Baker said.

"She's so dedicated, sympathetic and empathetic," Baker said. "Ginny has a real feel for it."

Horseback riding can boost riders' confidence, teach responsibility, and improve socialization skills, coordination, cognitive skills, memory, balance, range of motion, muscle strength and muscular relaxation, among other benefits, Gaylor said.

"In the midst of recreational riding, therapy happens," she said.

Lifelong horse lover Joanne Ramos Power lost the use of her legs after a 1991 car accident. She said therapeutic riding lessons improved her upper-body flexibility, balance, weight control and self-esteem.

And the lessons enabled Power to fulfill her wish to get married out of her wheelchair, she said. In October 1999, she got married on horseback.

"Ginny gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to get back up on a horse," said Power, of Martinsburg, W.Va. "She was a real blessing."

Gaylor also encourages her riders to participate in competitions because competing "is a really good incentive to try your best," and a way to boost riders' self-esteem, she said.

Sarah Roney, who began taking therapeutic riding lessons at Star more than two years ago, in July took first place in an obstacle course event at the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games. Roney, 28, and 30 other athletes will represent Maryland in next summer's Special Olympics World Games in Ireland.

One of her biggest challenges is finding enough volunteers to keep the center running smoothly, she said. Lessons are offered seven days a week, and it takes about three volunteers to assist many riders with disabilities.

"We depend on our volunteers. They do everything here," she said. "Everyone just pitches in and does what needs to be done."

Volunteers - who are eligible to help at Star starting at age 13 - work as instructors, side aides, barn managers, stable hands, clerical help and cleaners. They feed and groom horses, do laundry and help with fund-raising, Gaylor said.

She would love to find licensed physical and occupational therapists willing to volunteer at the center part time to provide "hippotherapy," doctor-prescribed physical therapy using horses, she said.

For more information or to volunteer at Star Equestrian Center, call 301-791-0011.

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