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Rural Missouri Magazine

Riding to Victory
Horseback riding helps
disabled riders clear life's hurdles

by Jarrett Medlin
Amber Ogle stretches out while riding Josh, one of Magic Moments’ horses. At least two volunteers walk alongside riders to ensure their safety.

Beneath her white safety helmet and pink shades, Amber Ogle beams with pride. The 10-year-old blonde rides a large black horse around a shaded yard while following instructions from her trainer. Once she’s warmed up, the trainer helps Amber lead her steed into a small enclosed area with plastic hurdles lying on the ground. With a snap of the reins, the horse jogs toward the hurdle, but veers around it at the last second. Undeterred, Amber circles to try again, but to no avail. After several attempts, the two leap over the obstacle with ease.

“Sometimes you have to get past those little hurdles before you get to the really big ones,” says Jeanne Brummet, founder of Magic Moments Therapeutic Riding Center in Diamond, a small town a half hour southeast of Joplin.

As Jeanne explains, Amber wasn’t always the confident, smiling girl now sitting atop her horse. Three years ago Amber, who has a form of autism known as Asperger’s disease, was a shy child with low self-esteem. While other girls played together with their dolls, Amber would sit by herself in a corner. When other children were running outside, Amber was inside, staring at her books and computer.

One day, her mother, Rona Brumback from Webb City, read about a form of therapy for people with developmental disabilities that involved riding horses. Being an animal lover and having a young daughter and son with autism, she was naturally intrigued. She heard about Magic Moments and decided to check it out.

Kyle Roller helps saddle his horse. All riders saddle their own horses.

When Rona visited the center, she saw a 14-year-old boy ride. The young rider had never spoken because he was too frail, but he’d been doing push-ups on the horse to strengthen himself. Out of the blue that day, the young rider uttered “walk on” — two simple words instructing the horse to move forward. Those words were the first ever to pass through his lips.

“Suddenly people went crazy,” Rona says. “They were crying and high-fiving. I went, ‘Wow, that was a miracle.’ And I suddenly wondered if Amber could do that.”

Once her daughter began riding, Rona saw a change in Amber almost immediately. Amber didn’t trust men before, but working with a male trainer helped her overcome her fear. After only a month, she would jump up in her grandpa’s lap and let him read her a story. She also began talking to other children and paying more attention in school. Each week, she couldn’t wait until her next riding session. Now, when other kids brag about cheerleading or baseball, Amber boasts, “Oh yeah, well I jump horses.”

“She is a part of something and that helps a lot,” Rona says.

The story of Jeanne and her husband, Gary, founders of Magic Moments, is remarkably similar. At the suggestion of a teacher, they enrolled their daughter, Rachel, now 24, in therapeutic riding while living in Peoria, Ill. The sessions had much the same effect on Rachel’s self-esteem that it did on Amber’s. But after moving to Missouri and discovering there were no local riding-therapy facilities, the Brummets founded their own riding-therapy center.

“We hoped it will do for others’ kids what it did for us,” Jeanne says.

Gary Brummet, founder and instructor at Magic Moments in Diamond, jokes with Chad Gerts, a rider originally from Texas who longs to be a cowboy.

Since 1998 Magic Moments has grown from six to 40 riders, ages 3 and up, with a range of developmental disorders, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, attention deficit disorder and other disabilities.

During that time, Jeanne and Gary have witnessed countless miracles — from hearing a rider’s first words to seeing children take their first step from a wheelchair.

“Almost everyone who’s come out here has had some success,” says Jeanne. “Ninety percent of people get something out of therapeutic riding.”

So what is it that makes riding a horse so magical? No one knows for sure. Studies show that movement of a horse helps stimulate brain activity. Maintaining balance on the horse improves coordination, flexibility and muscle strength. Riders with emotional disorders also build better social skills by bonding with the animals. Eventually, learning to ride leads to a sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence.

Of course, riders aren’t the only ones who benefit from the sessions.

“It’s really neat to watch the kids progress,” says volunteer Mike Conroy. “You think your life is tough, but when you get out here you see how lucky you really are.”

Gary teaches 8-year-old rider Amber Ogle to pet the horse when it obeys. Riders form bonds with the horses at Magic Moments during their therapy sessions.

About 45 volunteers at Magic Moments help guide and instruct the participants to build communication, listening and concentration skills. The volunteers help riders brush and saddle the horses at the beginning of each session to teach them manual skills and responsibility.

Although the number of volunteers has grown over the years, Magic Moments is always looking for new helpers.

As volunteer Dean Smith puts it, “Once you see what’s out here, how can you not volunteer?”

In May and October, volunteers assist during horse shows where riders demonstrate their skills and compete in different divisions. Every one of the riders walks away with a ribbon. “For a lot of them, it’s the highlight of the year,” says Jeanne.

Family members also benefit from riding therapy sessions. While waiting on riders, they discuss techniques for dealing with everyday dilemmas that arise when caring for someone with a disability. They’re also able to relax and know everyone around them is dealing with similar situations.

“When you have a child with lots of problems, you always feel like an outcast,” explains Jeanne. “You’re often the parent in Wal-Mart who everybody’s looking at because your child is acting out. So, you tend not to go anywhere or do anything.

“When you come to the therapeutic riding center, your kids are normal and everyone treats them like they’re normal. So, as parents, you breathe a sigh of relief and think, ‘Man, I’m just a normal person and everyone has the same problems as we do.’”

Amber Ogle picks out a bridle for her horse. The riders at Magic Moments Riding Therapy learn responsibility from caring for their horse and tack.

Therapeutic riding sessions at Magic Moments cost $35 per hour. For those who need help paying for the lessons, a case manager is available at the center to assist in locating funds.

Jeanne hopes that others might some day understand the significance of therapeutic riding. “Some people just see it as entertainment and pony rides,” she says. “It certainly is recreational, but it’s so much more than that. Until you get out here, you can’t believe it.”

Most family members and volunteers would echo Jeanne’s sentiments.

“If you watch, at every class, you see something remarkable happen,” says Rona, whose 4-year-old autistic son, Caden, began talking only a short time after his first session. “If you stick around long enough, you see a miracle happen.”

To learn more about Magic Moments Riding Therapy, call (417) 325-4490; visit www.ridingtherapy.com; or write to 394 County Lane 125, Diamond, MO 64840.


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