In the latest American Girl movie McKenna Shoots for the Stars, McKenna's friend Josie is confined to a wheel chair, but her greatest dream is to ride a horse. In one scene, we see her dream come true at a very special facility where children with disabilities can go and learn to ride. My kids love horses, as most kids do, and that part of the movie really stuck with them for many reasons. They wondered if there really were places where disabled kids could learn to ride horses, and they wondered if it was dangerous for them and what it was like (Josie's horse gets spooked in the movie and she almost falls).
To my surprise, I got an invitation to interview author Michael Morpurgo at just such a place. He was in town to talk about the US tour of the renowned play War Horse, which is based on his book. We met him at ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship, where children and adults with disabilities can go to connect with the beautiful horses and learn to ride.
My daughter and I were so impressed with the work that goes on at these facilities. We got to watch a few of the kids ride around on the horses, and they were so happy to be there. The experience is a huge confidence builder for the kids, and they get to learn something that is their own. Not only that, but they also connect with the horses in a very special way. Michael Morpurgo, who knows a thing or two about horses and the connection we have with animals and nature, said of the connection between horses and the kids at center:
"It's difficult because, all I know is that it happens. A connection between these creatures, whether they're horses or chickens or sheep, the connection between us and our fellow creatures is profound. I do believe we are all of the same creation. I also don't believe, as we're told sometimes, that we are supposed to rule the roost. I feel that we live in this world all together with these creatures, and the only responsibility we have is to look after this world and those creatures. Because I feel this way, I feel an empathy with all other creatures myself. "
The horses are so special and so significant to the children and adults who come to centers like ManeGait, and they are also very special to those who serve through ManeGait and similar organizations. If you love horses and are looking for a way to serve your community individually, as a family, or for a company or other group project, therapeutic horsemanship centers have plenty of opportunities available.
At ManeGait, individuals provide service by working at the facility with the horses and children. Groups like scouting troops and companies also provide service -- it's a great place to find ideas for an Eagle Scout project. The money to fund the organization comes from donations and events hosted at the center throughout the year. Coming up, if you live in the Dallas area, you can attend Gaitapalooza, which is a carnival held in October. The kids get to show off their riding skills, and the horses sport Halloween costumes. You can purchase tickets to the carnival, and there are also opportunities to sponsor riders ahead of time and help earn money for this amazing organization.
So, what my daughter and I learned, is that yes, therapeutic horsemanship centers do exist, and they are quietly doing amazing things for children and adults in the community. The experience is very safe for everyone involved, and at ManeGait, they told us that the horses are hand picked and would be highly unlikely to be spooked like Josie's horse was in the McKenna movie. However, centers like ManeGait do rely on community support and need all the help they can get. The waiting list at MainGait is 45 people long. So, if you have a disabled child or you are looking for ways to serve, look up a therapeutic horsemanship center near you and get involved.
(Photo © Universal/Photo © ManeGait)