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Horses with a special gift helping children with special needs

'Ride Above Disability' is looking for volunteers to help non-profit organization grow.

POWAY, Calif. — The joy of riding a horse is a thrill everyone should experience. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Poway where "Ride Above Disability" is kicking up some dust.

"There it it you got it. Woo hoo!! Go Sterling go!" yelled Katie Cram to one of her star students.  Katie is the Equine Director at Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center where she told us her special horses offer a gift for helping children with special needs. 

Credit: Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center

Rain, Pokey and Miss Dixie are just a few of the horses making a difference. 

"I get really excited about it," said Katie, who grew up riding horses in Ramona.

Fifteen years ago, someone asked her if she wanted to teach a boy with special challenges how to ride. "I was like, yes, yes I do. We hit it off immediately and it was amazing to watch him change," said Katie, who then thought why not teach students with special needs to compete against all riders at local events. 

"We just started our dressage season and we had two of our riders get a blue ribbon and one of them got a blue and a red," she said with a huge smile.

Credit: Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center

There's just something about horses, that bring out the best in everyone.

 "Honestly, it's kind of like magic," said Becka Palter. She is the lead instructor who showed up at this non-profit organization five years ago and never left. "I mean the horses are great, but I think it's the kids," said Becka when asked why she loves her work so much.  

Fifty-two children are enrolled in the program, like Sterling, a nine-year-old with autism who loves to go fast.  "He's pretty cute, ha, ha," said Sterling before his lesson. 

I asked Sterling what he liked about riding horses. 

"Well when they trot it's real bouncy," said Sterling. I asked him, "Does it kind of feel as if you are flying?" He told me, "No, it's more like a trampoline."

Credit: Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center

Thirty students are on the waiting list to join the program. What the organization needs to grow are volunteers. Volunteer Kathleen Falco just moved here from New York. 

"You know what I really love is working with the kids," said Kathleen.

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"Everybody here is just so nice," said Heidi Bohnsach. She became a volunteer two weeks ago. I asked her how they were putting her to work. "Lots of poop scooping which I love," said Heidi who told me you don't have to make money to feel rewarded. 

"It's just so fulfilling in that way and then talking to the parents it's just a win win," said Heidi.  

"Yeah nice, right turn awesome. Sterling you are nailing it," yelled Katie. 

"I want them to have the same opportunities anyone else would and I don't want them to be looked at any differently."

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In other words, everyone should saddle up and ride like the wind. "It definitely feels like a trampoline," laughed Katie. Nice job Sterling!"

Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center is teaching recreational riding to children and adults of all ages with special needs. 

The idea behind Ride Above was to create a place where the entire family unit could come and feel welcome, relax and enjoy their time at the ranch.

The program could not operate without generous donations from the community.

Donations of horse equipment, barn supplies, games and sensory toys for the riders are always welcome. There is also the option of a partial or full scholarship of a horse or client. The funds help the program reach as many in the community with a need as possible. 

All donations go towards benefiting the students and the horses. To make an in-kind donation click here.

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