Therapeutic Riding Center holds open house

June 20, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL


A memorial garden was dedicated Saturday to a local woman who gave more than 20 years to helping special-needs people experience the joys of horseback riding.

Julie Kegerreis Stouffer, a riding instructor, board member and physical therapist assistant for the Franklin County Therapeutic Riding Center since 1983, died of a brain aneurysm in April 2004 at the age of 49.

During the center's open house, Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said that Stouffer was "a visionary, a spark plug. She was driven to make this program a success."


In dedicating the garden, the Rev. Clayton Moyer, who is a riding instructor and board member of the center, said that Stouffer had "a 20-year love affair with therapeutic riding. She became a certified instructor, but she began by mucking out the stalls."

"Julie understood the importance of laughter in her work with the riders," Moyer said. "The riders are familiar with pain and disappointment and hardship. It was important for them to forget their disabilities for a short time and have fun like everyone else. They learned to laugh with each other. Their impairments did not define them."

Stouffer gained the experience and skills she needed to work with the riders by caring for her daughter, Ellie, who has cerebral palsy, Moyer said.

The garden and pergola, which includes seating, was designed and built by Mike Hennessey and Sharon Holoviak, president of the center.

The Therapeutic Riding Center's mission is to provide therapy and recreation through horsemanship to those with special needs. The program is run by about 100 volunteers, and is free to its 70 participants.

About $40,000 per year from donations is spent on feed, horseshoes, heat and other stable expenses, finance committee member Rose McNew said. Officials eventually want to be able to hire a paid director so that services can be expanded, and are trying to raise the necessary funds, she said.

Ryan Baer, 33, had ridden for 12 years, and graduated last year to driving the horse-drawn buggy, said his mother, Hazel Baer.

"Riding helps his coordination and gives him muscle strength," she said.

Kelly Thomas, 23, a graduate of Edinboro (Pa.) University and a rider in the program for 19 years, told the crowd at the open house that the riding program has benefited her. Her balance has improved, "and then you find you can do other things," she said. "I went skiing on a sit-ski, and I knew I could do that because of riding."

The main psychological benefit has been that "it encourages you and makes you feel like you have accomplished something. You start out with two sidewalkers and a leader, then eventually they leave you, and you feel better and better about yourself.

"This is better than therapy and a lot more fun. You get attached to the horses."

Craig Lininger, 21, has been riding in the program since he was 5. His favorite horse is Daisy, and he likes to trot her and shoot a ball while sitting on her back. He is learning to post when Daisy trots.

His mother, Dorie Lininger of Chambersburg, said that the first time Craig sat on a horse, he "did it like he'd done it all his life."

"He is learning to give the horse commands, and he sits straighter" as a result of riding, she said. "He has to listen to everything Susan (Rotz) says. She speaks softly, but he hears everything and he obeys her."

Crystal Bittinger, 14, of Marion, Pa., said she likes all of the horses, and that riding them "is fun and helps my posture." She added that she was "kind of nervous, but I didn't mind" demonstrating her horseback riding skills to the crowd.

Nina Hill, Marcella Sheffler and Susan Rotz received awards Saturday for 20 or more years of volunteer service.

The center has three riding rings - two outdoor and one indoor - on 25 acres of land donated by the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

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