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Healers with hooves: A second visit

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By Brian Garner

Last year, the RideAbility Therapeutic Riding Center in Clover received a grant from the Herbert & Anna Lutz Foundation to expand their veteran’s program and to be able to add more riders who could take advantage of the Center’s capabilities.

The RideAbility riding center teaches horseback riding and horse care to a wide variety of riders with disabilities and health issues such as autism, spinal chord injury or paralysis due to a traumatic auto accident and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Center director Dr. Wendy Schonfeld said the recent Lutz Foundation grant will be used to allow more riders to participate in the horseback riding and horse care lessons.

One of those riders who is there as a result of the Lutz Foundation grant is Bryan Stansell from Rock Hill. Bryan, 12, has been diagnosed with autism.

He introduced Pache, his horse.

“Pache is my twin,” Bryan explained. “When you act up like somebody else, he’ll do the same. He’s a friendly horse; they don’t bite. Wendy trains them to get them to work with us,” he said.

“I’m here to work with the horse and learn how to concentrate with the horse. Working with the horse is a good thing; you have to work real hard and you have to actually meditate with these horses. This horse? You have to make him think what he needs to do, to go where you need him to go,” he said.

Bryan has been working with Pache for about three years, he said. He is learning to ride; he has competed and won medals in several North Carolina Special Olympic equestrian events (until recently, South Carolina Special Olympics has had no equestrian events, but more on that later.) Bryan is also learning how to care for the horses he rides.

“If you work with the horses, the horses will work with you,” he said.

 Bryan’s mother Cynthia Stansell said they have been at RideAbility for about three years.

“When we first came out, we were looking for a therapy that was active – Bryan (who the family also calls Lachlan—he goes by the name Bryan when he is riding or competing) sensory-seeks; he likes motion, movement, roller coasters, things like that,” she said.

He was diagnosed with autism with sensory integration dysfunction, said Stansell.

“He can’t do competitive sports; soccer, Little League. When we started coming out here, he had no social skills. It was ‘Lachlan’s world’ – he didn’t know how to wait his turn when working in a group setting. He always had to be at the front of the line, nobody else mattered, it was what Lachlan wanted.

“He had no self esteem and no confidence. Within the first year we came out here, he’s made friends, friends that we actually see outside of RideAbility. (This is the first time he has really had friends).

“He has gained so much self confidence. Wendy has asked him to do different things, for example when he was first starting to canter, she asked him to do it by himself, and he was ‘yeah! Let’s do it!’ whereas before he would have been hesitant,” Stansell said.

When Bryan first started at RideAbility, he would follow a direction that was no more than two steps in complexity, “Now Wendy will come out here and give him the whole course (of obstacles or challenges he has to guide the horse through), which is 12 or 14 steps, and he will go out there and follow it, which is amazing,” she said.

Those abilities that Bryan is practicing and learning at RideAbility translate over into his home life as well, said Stansell. She home-schools Bryan and he is learning to follow directions in school and concentrate and focus on his lessons. Because he has learned patience with his horse, he is also better able to deal with frustrations when he’s not at the riding center.

Stansell volunteers at the RideAbility Center and says she has seen a lot of families who would not be able to take advantage of the therapeutic opportunities if not for the grant provided by the Foundation. Bryan and Cynthia are one of those families.

She said she would not have been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by RideAbility if it was not for the Lutz Foundation funding.

“Without the grant, we could not afford to do this. I don’t work, because I home-school Bryan. His father is a truck driver, which pays well, but at the same time, he has expenses on the road. There is no way we could have done this without the grant, and we are extremely grateful to the Lutz Foundation for this.”

“This has made the biggest difference in Bryan’s life.”

Schonfeld said last year’s grant from the Foundation went to support the veteran’s program, called Equine Services for Heroes, which has been so successful they have added another series of the program due to the need.

“Our new series of that veteran’s program starts in April, and we’re already getting phone calls about it,” said Schonfeld.

The afternoon of the interview, Schonfeld also proudly announced that she had received a call from the S.C. Special Olympics organization.

“We’re going to be starting equestrian events at the S.C. Special Olympics, and they have asked me to be the program leader for equestrian sports development,” she said.