Organization changing lives with horses

Riding has helped 5-year-old in many ways, mother says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Riding horses has changed the lives of two local residents. Grass Valley resident Anthony Rabak, 42, has multiple sclerosis, or M.S. He has been receiving supplemental therapy through the Auburn-based program Horses for Healing. Rabak has limited mobility and uses crutches to walk. Rabak said riding Quarter Horse Odie once a week works his core muscles and helped him recover from an M.S. setback in 2008 that basically paralyzed him. “When I first got back on the horse my core muscles, everything had just deteriorated,” Rabak said. “I noticed that when you have a setback with the M.S. your body kind of knows how to do things, but it needs to get back into the repetition. I just think when you have M.S. you almost have to do maintenance, working your muscles and coordination.” Horses for Healing was founded in 1997 and serves clients who range in age from 3 to 60 years old. “It was originally founded for adults with M.S., because there were no adult programs like this in the area,” said Diana Kemmerle, president and barn manager for the organization. Horses for Healing now offers therapy to clients with cerebral palsy, M.S., autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Spina Bifida and those recovering from strokes, Kemmerle said. “What this does is offer them the ability to be mobile,” she said. “It develops muscle tone and helps them develop muscles they may not be able to use on their own. It gives them the connection with the animals, which is a calming thing.” Riding Instructor Marcy Schaffer-Egot, a former special education teacher, said Horses for Healing instructors try to work with a client’s physical, occupational and speech therapists to create exercises that compliment a client’s existing routine. Horses Odie, Secret and Dusty provide the therapy. Rabak said a horse’s gait is the same as a human’s, so his body gets more exercise than his limited mobility normally allows him. “It just enables you to have the ability to do things you wouldn’t be able to on two feet,” he said. “You can do it better on four.” Rabak said the program has made him stronger, and he also enjoys seeing what it does for other riders receiving therapy. “I guess the biggest benefit is I see a strengthening in my core muscles, where I have better posture and can sit up straight,” he said. “It’s encouraging when I see some of the other riders when they respond to the horses and what they get out of it.” Rabak said his wife has been a big supporter during his troubles with the disease and she notices the positive effect Horses for Healing has on him. “I think she would say it’s nice to see him have something to look forward to,” he said. “It’s a really good program. I wish more people realized the benefit.” Newcastle resident Diana Welsh has been bringing her 5-year-old daughter, Sedona, to Horses for Healing for about a year. Sedona is undiagnosed, but is non-verbal and developmentally delayed, so she doesn’t normally walk independently, Welsh said. Welsh said instructors help Sedona do various exercises on horseback and work with identifying different objects. Welsh said Sedona has started to initiate some of the exercises over the last several months. Welsh said after riding, Sedona walks better for about 10 or 15 minutes, and sometimes only holds onto one of her hands for help. “It is really helpful for a child who doesn’t walk to ride a horse,” Welsh said. “She just a couple weeks ago walked all by herself.” Welsh said she has seen her daughter improve in other ways as well. “She is non-verbal, but her receptive language has gotten a lot stronger,” she said. “She is so much calmer now than when she first started riding. I don’t think she would be making the progress we have seen in certain areas (if she didn’t come here). She has a lot of anxiety, and I don’t think we would see the calmness if she wasn’t riding a horse. When we drive into the driveway she gets this huge grin on her face.” Kemmerle said although the organization fell on hard times in the past, a January fundraiser and a donation from the Auburn Emblem Club has Horses for Healing in a much better financial standing. However, the organization is still looking for more sponsorships and donations to keep it healthy. It has about 25 volunteers now, but more are always welcome, Kemmerle said. “This (organization) serves a portion of the community who might not otherwise be able to get the stimulation and the physical exercise,” Kemmerle said. “Just being around people and the animals (is important). It sometimes gives the kids something their siblings don’t participate in. It gives them something special.” Welsh said the organization holds a special place in her heart. “I just have to say on weeks when we don’t come (because of bad weather), I’m totally devastated,” she said. Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------- Horses for Healing What: A nonprofit organization that offers multi-sensory horse riding therapy to people with special needs. Where: 13355 Bell Brook Drive, Auburn Website: Information: Call Diana Kemmerle at (530) 887-9573 or e-mail