With arms outstretched and a smile on her face, 10-year-old Julia Kelly focused on staying in the saddle atop Kattie, a horse she was riding over the weekend at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center.
Riding without holding the reins is a feat Julia, who has Down syndrome, learned while taking classes at the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach, a nonprofit that has provided therapy to children with physical and developmental disabilities through equine activities since 1990.
The Therapeutic Riding Center on Saturday will host its sixth annual Derby Day fundraiser featuring a hat-decorating contest, a silent auction, Clydesdales, children's activities and equestrian performances.
There are about 40 students registered for the event and more spots are available.
Denine Kelly, 51, of Huntington Beach, has been taking one-hour lessons at the riding center on Saturday mornings with Julia for about 3 1/2 years.
"When she was younger, she didn't respond as well to directions, but as she got older and does this more and more, she listens and follows directions better," said Denine Kelly. "That's where she's made the biggest growth — her ability to listen, to do what's asked of her and to be much more independent."