Ogle stretches out while riding Josh, one of Magic Moments’ horses.
At least two volunteers walk alongside riders to ensure their
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.
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
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
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
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
“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.”
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.
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
“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,
a normal person and everyone has the same problems as we do.’”
picks out a bridle for her horse. The riders at Magic Moments
Riding Therapy learn responsibility from caring for their horse
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.
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,