- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

STAUNTON, Va. — Cindy Clark, 34, has been riding at Cabin Creek Stables for two years. Every time she gets a chance, she comes to the barn for a lesson.

“This is Annie,” Miss Clark said, pointing at the horse standing next to her. “She’s the horse I ride here.”

Miss Clark is quick and efficient as she grooms Annie and explains what she’s doing.

“I’m brushing her right now,” Miss Clark said. “You have to brush her all over, from her head to her hoof.”

Cindy and Annie have grown close. But the horse isn’t what brought her to Cabin Creek or kept her coming back.

“She has Down syndrome,” said Barbara Counts, Miss Clark’s mother, also a horse enthusiast. “Cabin Creek is one of the few barns that can accommodate a person like her.”

Since 1990, Cabin Creek Stables, which also boards horses, has had a program known as Ride With Pride.

“It’s a program that allows mentally, physically or even socially handicapped people to develop relationships with an animal that doesn’t judge on first sight,” said Debbie Winters, who leads the program.

But it has been only recently, with new barn owners and a new partner organization, that the program has reached the limelight.

“Ever since Melyni Worth bought the barn, she’s really fixed it up,” Mrs. Winters said. “She’s always been a supporter of Ride With Pride and has given us a lot of free reign.”

Leslie Cromer, whose parents formerly owned Cabin Creek, started the program.

“Leslie had a horse-related accident in 1986 and broke her back,” said Judy Cromer, Leslie Cromer’s mother. “She decided to change her degree to recreational therapy, and so it was only natural for her to start Ride With Pride.”

Mrs. Winters said the program began with less than 10 kids, but has since expanded. Word has spread.

“We actually get referrals now,” Mrs. Winters said. “Before, we would have to call or get information out through word of mouth.”

The programs at Cabin Creek include everything from an anger management group to a work crew.

“The work crew is for kids who can’t seem to get their act together,” Mrs. Winters said. “They do chores around the barn and earn play money, which they can put toward lessons or their own riding helmets.”

Ms. Counts heard of the program at work.

“I used to work at a bank in Fishersville,” she said. “One of my co-workers told me about Cabin Creek, and we decided to try the program.”

Riders have to care for the horses each time they come. The care might include grooming and feeding, or anything else the riders can physically do.

“The riders build these amazing relationships with the horses,” said Mrs. Winters. “Just being around the horse is enough for some of our riders.”

For Miss Clark, grooming is as enjoyable as riding.

“I love brushing her,” said Miss Clark as she demonstrated the correct way to give the horse a treat. “You have to hold the treat flat in the palm of your hand.”

Riding has other benefits besides providing a fun time.

Mrs. Winters puts Miss Clark and students like her through a short series of stretches and exercises before they can ride the horse around the ring.

After exercises, riders can walk, then jog the horses.

However, for Miss Clark, there must always be a spotter leading the horse. The rider gives all the commands, but the spotter is there for emergencies.

“It’s funny how an animal relates to a person like Cindy,” Mrs. Counts said.

“The horses seem to understand, and they never really give the riders trouble.”


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