Riding program enriches lives

Ashley Spires has cerebral palsy, but this doesn’t stop her from enjoying horseback riding.

“I was five when I began going to Special Equestrians (a therapeutic horseback-riding program for the physically and mentally challenged),” said the 27-year-old Chelsea resident.

“For a while she didn’t much want to go,” her mother Teresa said. “But I saw how much another girl had improved since she started going, so I kept pushing it. Then Ashley got where she didn’t want to quit because she enjoyed it.”

Ashley said the thing she likes best about Special Equestrians is riding a brown-colored horse named P.J. They ride in the arena and on a trail, she said.

“I ride him every time now, then somebody in the next class rides him,” she said.

She said she and P.J. have become good friends, “Because I took him carrots.”

Therapeutic riding has developed worldwide since 1952, when polio victim and rider, Lis Hartel won an Olympic Silver medal, according to the Special Equestrians in Alabama Web site. It also states that “Riding both stimulates and relaxes muscle groups, builds muscle tone and can improve balance and coordination.”

Ashley said besides the enjoyment she gets from riding, it has improved her balance.

Special Equestrians Inc., a non-profit organization located on the campus of Indian Springs School on Highway 119, began in 1985. At that time it consisted of five riders, 10 volunteers and one instructor. The program now includes 88 riders, two instructors and more than 100 volunteers.

The program provides therapeutic riding lessons to people of Jefferson, Shelby and adjacent counties who’ve been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, traumatic injuries and many other disorders.

For more information, contact Director Kathi Claybrook by phone at 987-WHOA (9462).