- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Holding a cold, yellow apple, Crystal Collins laughed uncontrollably as Summer, a black and white paint horse, smacked her lips and slapped Collins’ outstretched palms.

Trying not to laugh made it worse.

Horse lips can tickle, and Summer’s wet nose kept sending blasts of warm air against Collins’ palm.

The apple kept wobbling in Collins’ palm, threatening to tumble.

“Hold your hand flat,” said Collins’ trainer.

In between giggles, Collins, a 36-year-old from Anderson, said she was trying.

“I’m worried she’s going to nibble my fingers,” Collins said with still another laugh as Summer wolfed down the last half of the apple, seeds and all.

Collins tightened the saddle and patted down Summer’s hair, warm from the Friday sun.

Collins grabbed the arm of Lisa Hartman, her trainer, and they walked 100 feet or so to a small wooden staircase.

The stairs are used to help people with disabilities get on the saddle.

Summer is about 14.3 hands, a little less than 5 feet tall. Summer is a little on the smaller size, which is good for Hartman and many of her riders.

Hartman runs SHARE Therapeutic Riding Program, a horse clinic for people with disabilities, at the Scott Hills Equestrian Center in Pendleton.

Collins heard about the farm last summer.

She rode a pony as a child. As a teen she started riding, but hadn’t been on a horse in six years after the Icelandic horse she rode went back to Iceland because of the heat in South Carolina.

Collins knew the farm was her chance to get back on a horse.

It took the right opportunity, because Collins is blind.

She started losing her eyesight before she was 3 months old.

Balance is critical to riding a horse, and it’s hard to balance without seeing.

Collins needed to find someone who could help her figure out the right combination of saddle, horse and personal style in order to do any kind of regular riding.

Meeting Hartman last fall got Collins back in the saddle.

In the arena Feb. 19, after a few months of testing out various combinations, Collins and Summer strode around as one, kicking up dirt and riding in a oval.

Collins keeps track of the distance and how fast Summer is striding to know how far she is from the side.

Hartman yells out directions from outside the arena.

“More turned to the right.”

“More pressure on the left rein.”

Hartman stopped herself.

“Sometimes I say too much,” she said.

On the other side of the small arena, Collins hears and laughs.

In another fenced area nearby, one horse keeps neighing.

Persistent, he kept making sounds.

Collins didn’t need to ask to know the horse had the hots for a mare.

She can hear it from a good ways away and turned her attention back to riding.

She cantered, a speed faster than a trot and slower than a gallop.

Getting to canter was one of Collins’ major goals. She had done it years ago but now is able to let go of the saddle horn and enjoy the speed.

The first time she rode at a canter was unplanned.

“The horse went into a canter, sometimes a horse does something you didn’t ask for and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do this,’ ” Collins said.

Hartman’s goal is to get Collins riding on trails.

Collins has the same idea.

“I’d love to go through a creek on a horse,” she said. “My goal is to get out of the square.”

She’d like others, especially people who can’t see well or at all, to get on a horse.

“To work with an animal that strong, it’s an adrenaline rush,” Collins said. “It’s such a sense of accomplishment, having that control together. I hope enough people who are visually impaired come do this. It’s just a lot of fun.”

___

Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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