Equestrian center provides therapy

Fundraiser on Saturday at Huntington Central Park will benefit program for children with disabilities.

April 29, 2014|By Anthony Clark Carpio
  • Ten-year-old Julia Kelly holds onto Kattie during her riding class at the Huntington Beach Therapeutic Riding Center on Saturday in preparation for the center's annual Derby Day fundraiser.
Ten-year-old Julia Kelly holds onto Kattie during her… (Susan Hoffman,…)

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."


With every passing lesson, Julia learned to follow her instructor's orders, balance in the saddle and develop an ever-growing affinity for horses, Denine said.

During a recent lesson, Julia maintained her balance as Kattie, a 22-year-old American Saddlebred mix, was led by a volunteer around the arena. Continuing to smile and laugh, the youngster was told to place her arms in front of her, behind her and to her sides.

"She loves all animals, but there's something special between her and horses because they're such large animals," she said. "When she first started, even though she loved them, she was very intimidated by them. Now it's almost the opposite. She'll just walk up to any horse and start petting it."

Donna Brandt, board president and head instructor at the Therapeutic Riding Center, said those teaching the program have to be certified by the Professional Assn. of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, an organization that teaches instructors how to effectively use horseback riding as a form of therapy.

"A lot of people think that we just come out and do pony rides, but we actually have to know about various disabilities the children may have," she said.

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