‘It’s the miracle of the horses:’ LNLC students enjoy visit from farm

Linda Nolen Learning Center student Ellie Meeks is all smiles as volunteers from the Montevallo-based Carousel O’Breeds Farm lead her on a horse ride on April 29. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

Linda Nolen Learning Center student Ellie Meeks is all smiles as volunteers from the Montevallo-based Carousel O’Breeds Farm lead her on a horse ride on April 29. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

PELHAM – Linda Nolen Learning Center student Ellie Meeks typically uses a wheelchair for mobility, but on April 29, she used a more smile-inducing mode of transportation.

“I’m on the horse, I’m on the horse!” Meeks said repeatedly, the smile never leaving her face, as volunteers from the Montevallo-based Carousel O’Breeds Farm led her horse around a field behind the school.

“You’re doing a great job,” volunteer Kim Martin told Meeks, who had quickly overcome her jitters after taking a lap around the field.

For Meeks and her classmates at the school for Shelby County students with severe disabilities, April 29 provided a chance to enjoy an activity few students in any school get to experience.

The Shelby County 4-H Horse Club visits LNLC each year to give the students an opportunity to ride horses, pet smaller livestock and even pet chickens.

After leading a few special-needs students on their horse rides, Chyanne Martin, a sophomore at Jemison High School, couldn’t hold back the tears.

“They don’t get the privilege of being able to do this every day,” Martin said after helping a student off the horse. “I feel like I understand special-ed kids a little more just because my mom is a special-ed teacher.”

“It shows these teen volunteers that there is a lot more going on in the world than their cell phones,” Martin’s mother, Kim, added.

While many of LNLC students who participated in the event were non-verbal, the expressions on their faces said it all, said teacher Matt Holsomback.

“That was really nice. A lot of these things, they otherwise wouldn’t get to experience,” Holsomback said a few minutes after his student, Brandon Roegner, rode a horse. “He loved it. I think it was therapeutic for him because he kept petting the horse’s mane.”

For Carousel O’Breeds owner Libby Shackleford, the event brings a phenomenon she can’t explain.

“When they start riding, they are usually tense and nervous. But by the time they make it around (the field) a second time, they are always relaxed,” Shackleford said. “It’s the miracle of the horses. It’s a blessing, and it’s something I can’t explain.”