Where There's A Will There's A Way

by Amber McNamara

Two girls, one eight and one nine, live on a small farm in Colorado. One girl is disabled and always watches wishfully as her sister rides the farm horse around the yard. One day the able bodied sister ties a kitchen chair to the farm horse using an old kitchen towel in order for her sister to ride.

These two sisters have come a long way to create H.O.R.S.E.S., Horseback Outdoor Recreation, Scenic Experiences and Services, a non-profit adaptive riding program for people with disabilities. Kerrill Knaus, who was born with a severe spinal disorder, and Sue Rosen were determined to get Kerry on a horse in a safe manner. For years they contacted many organizations dealing with riding for people with disabilities, only to be turned away because Kerry had a disability that was deemed too severe for her to ride.

After seven years of Rosen's and Knaus' research, including contacting nine different countries, they discovered that there was not an organization in any country that offered recreational riding to people with any degree of disability.

For 42 years Kerrill Knaus-Hardy, the co-founder of the Adaptive Riding Institute, could only imagine how the spray of the cold Oregon ocean would feel against her cheek. Two years ago, thanks to her four-legged friend Czar, she no longer had to imagine. Kerry and Czar, equipped with Kerry's custom equipped saddle, made the short trek that most of us take for granted to the edge of the ocean. Czar is just one of the many wonderful horses that have been donated to the program. She is a 15-year-old Morgan cross who has been with the program for 8 years. When Czar first arrived at the ranch she was foundered and could barely walk. Now, thanks to Todd Rahm (pictured), an exceptionally talented farrier, and his professional associates who all donate their skills to the program, Czar and the other horses at ARI are able to carry many riders past the barriers that are forced upon them due to their disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Adaptive Riding Institute

H.O.R.S.E.S. was started in the small town of Scotts Mills located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in 1987 after Rosen and Knaus received numerous requests from many people from the disabled community. "The relationship between horse and rider has proven beneficial in developing personal confidence, improving social skills, and increasing self esteem," Knaus said. "Horseback riding also provides a therapeutic three dimensional movement which enhances the rider's balance, posture, and stamina," added Knaus.

The program, formerly H.O.R.S.E.S. and now The Adaptive Riding Institute (ARI), owns 35 donated horses that are tested and selected on the basis of their health, experience, and temperament, before they are accepted into the program. "The horses must all go through the rigid evaluation to ensure the safety of the riders and handlers," said Equestrian Director Sue Rosen.

The program is operated by a small group of very hard-working and dedicated volunteers who feed, train, do public relations, and much more. The ultimate goal is to enable any physically disabled children and adults the opportunity to experience wilderness exploration, which would be impossible without the help of their four legged friends.

"Many therapeutic riding programs look at us as witches or think that we are crazy for taking disabled people riding in the outdoors," Knaus said. Amazingly enough, the safety of these riders out on the trail is far superior to the traditional arena riding. The trails are always pre-ridden by volunteers and only trails with natural barriers of trees and brush, where there is no avenue for horses taking flight, are chosen for the disabled riders.

"All of the riders are accompanied by an able bodied rider in front and another behind them to ensure maximum safety," Rosen said. Many riders must use custom-made adaptive riding equipment with built in safety features such as a quick release cinch so that a rider and saddle can be quickly removed from a horse in an emergency. All riders are also required to wear a safety helmet while riding for their own protection.

The program that the two sisters started with three riders 12 years ago now serves over 300 riders a year from countries such as Japan and Korea, and has received over 100 donated horses. These seem like large numbers for something that had such a small start but the amount of happiness, self-satisfaction, and confidence that riding has instilled in many riders is irreplaceable.


About the author:

Amber McNamara, a journalism student, is a volunteer for the horses program at The Adaptive Riding Institute. She is Sue's daughter and Kerry's niece.