Riding on: Special Equestrians serves the community for 30 years

El Gezira Riding Academy rider Barbara Barclay clears a jump on her horse, Dancer, during the April 30 Boots and Black Tie Gala for Special Equestrians. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

El Gezira Riding Academy rider Barbara Barclay clears a jump on her horse, Dancer, during the April 30 Boots and Black Tie Gala for Special Equestrians. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

NORTH SHELBY—For 30 years, Special Equestrians has given individuals with disabilities and special needs an experience they can only get on a horse. The Pelham-based nonprofit organization provides therapeutic riding lessons and activities to individuals of all ages and needs.

Horseback riding has a number of benefits for a variety of disabilities and needs. The motion and rhythm of riding a horse can be calming for riders with autism, nonverbal individuals can exercise communication skills through without words, and for riders who can’t walk, riding a horse activates many of the core muscles used when walking, Special Equestrians board member Kathy Claybrook said.

“It gives (the riders) a connection to something,” Special Equestrians Junior Board President Jennifer Roberts said. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Special Equestrians includes 14 horses and serves 100 riders of all ages each week.

On April 30, Mazzoni Equestrian on Cahaba Valley Road hosted the annual Special Equestrians Boots and Black Tie Gala fundraiser. The event featured a silent auction, music, dinner and a show put on by riders Clair Allison, Cleo Bagwell, Barbara Barclay, Hayden Kent and Aubrey Torrez.

“This is our big fundraising event. This is our biggest event period,” Roberts said.

The Boots and Black Tie Gala is essential to Special Equestrians. The organization is largely run by volunteers and financed through donations.

“It funds everything that we need to do,” Claybrook said.

Claybrook estimated the operating cost per rider is around $2,300 per year, but Special Equestrians only charges participants $460 per year.

Roberts noted the consistent generosity and support from local businesses. This year more than 150 items were donated to the event’s silent auction, from hotel packages, to handmade goods, to jewelry.

“We could not do everything we do without the support of our volunteers and generous supporters,” Roberts said.

The Special Equestrians Junior Board is hosting a smaller Brews and Shoes fundraising event at Trim Tab Brewery in Birmingham on June 25.

For more information about Special Equestrians, visit Specialequest.org.