After the Derby, when the tents are taken down, the linens pressed and put away, the hats stuffed with tissue and stored in their boxes, we rest for a little while.
On the first Saturday in May, in a gentrified fashion, we celebrate with the world the gifts that are born here in the cradle of the bluegrass. However, it's the quiet side of this special place that I love the most. The side that humbly gives back every day of the year.
When we moved to Kentucky, the first thing our family did was get a dog. Along came sweet Gracie. The next thing on the list was a horse. Whoa! Let's learn to take care of the dog first. Just so you know, I loved the thought of having a barn for an art studio, guest quarters, barn dances, but not a horse.
I felt that the kids needed to be around horses and learn from the ground up, like their dad. That first summer I wanted them hot & dusty in cut-offs, cleaning tack & mucking stalls. Well, Collier picked up a baseball bat and never looked back but Taylor went for it!
Just minutes from our place is the Kentucky Horse Park and where Taylor discovered Riding for Hope. Riding for Hope is a 27-year-old program that uses horses to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and build self-confidence in children and adults who have physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs.
She signed up to volunteer which gave her the opportunity to lead a horse, to groom and help saddle it. Encouraging disabled riders to achieve their best gave her a real source of accomplishment.
It takes more than just the reins to turn a horse; riders use their eyes and heads and twist the body side to side to help direct the horse. You lean slightly forward to go faster and sit up tall and deep to slow down. All of these exercises help to improve motor skills and core strength.
The movement of the horse mimics walking for humans.
There is a sixth-sense, a magic that happens between rider and horse!
And as riders progress, depending on their physical ability, they can improve coordination skills as well as balance, core, and leg strength.
Everyone feels the pride of accomplishment when a rider works hard to master the skills taught in a therapeutic riding lesson.
At CKRH, obstacles are overcome every day, and it all begins with volunteers.
Every weekend that Taylor went out to the park she learned more and more. Even though she wasn't certified to assist alongside riders, she and the other young volunteers were part of the hay crew.
They prepared each horse for the individual rider and their specific lesson, cleaned the stalls during the lesson and were ready and waiting when the lesson was over to clean and put it all away.
She will tell you that there is nothing better than hearing a rider speak their first words while on horseback, or sharing the amazement of a student as they touch the soft nose of their equine partner for the very first time.
And speaking of partners, I can tell you that the horses at Riding for Hope are every bit as special as their riders.
This is Annie. She is is a 14.2 hand sorrel Quarter Horse cross mare. Initially rescued from horrifying neglect, Annie was nursed back to health before joining the program in 2005.
Infinitely patient with students, she adores being painted or standing in as the model for the body parts quiz in which students attach Velcro cards bearing the names of the horse’s parts to their respective areas. She once waited patiently for nearly five minutes as a young student struggled to attach the “nose” card. After repeated attempts, Annie gently, but firmly, placed her nose into the student’s palm and held it there until the card was affixed.
After operating out of a barn for nearly three decades, CKRH now has a brand new home!
Today lessons can take place indoors or out which can nearly double the hours an autistic child or one with cerebral palsy can feel as though they are masters of the universe!
The new facility also has a great sensory trail that includes a wooded area and pond.
Volunteering at CKRH gave Taylor the opportunity she was looking for to learn about horses. Little did she know that she was learning to be a part of something extraordinary.
CKRH is a non-profit program that is completely dependent upon community support. Funding and volunteer support are provided by numerous individuals as well as various community service-based organizations.
CKRH is accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). It is one of 694 such facilities nationwide.
Photos courtesy of CKRH and Taylor Porter