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Sitting Tall in the Saddle

Exceptional Hero inspires friends, ­classmates to support Maryland Therapeutic Riding

Katie Parry loves going to the movies and shopping with her sister. But what the 21-year-old loves most is riding horses.
    Katie, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, first climbed into the saddle at two years old, following the example of older sister Dayna. She had been riding in a county program for three years when her mother, Deborah, stumbled across Maryland Therapeutic Riding while flipping through a phone book looking for a tutor.
    Maryland Therapeutic Riding had just opened its barn doors to welcome children with special abilities, autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and developmental delays.
    Sixteen years later, Katie is one of the longest riding members at the Crownsville equestrian center.
    “I like riding horses. It’s fun,” Katie said.
    Love and dedication go hand in hand.
    For high school graduation, instead of gifts Katie asked for donations to Maryland Therapeutic Riding.
    Katie says she asked friends and family to donate to ensure that the 16-year-old non-profit, which survives on donations and contributions, continues to help her fellow riders. They honored her wishes to the tune of $1,500.
    Katie’s dedication has earned her honor in return.
    At Maryland Therapeutic Riding, she’s the Exceptional Hero of 2012. Katie has also been recognized nationally, named Adult Equestrian of the Year by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
    “It takes an enormous amount of strength to get out of bed in the morning for someone with cerebral palsy,” said Marilyn Baker, director of the riding center. “Then to go out and ride a horse, it’s just extraordinary.”
    Katie will open Maryland Therapeutic Riding’s 12th annual Live on the Farm benefit September 7 with a riding demonstration.
    The benefit is a concert, headlined by The Oak Ridge Boys with local favorites The Hard Travelers opening. This year’s goal is $200,000. ARINC is the corporate sponsor, with many local citizens and organizations pitching in.
    As well as children, adults with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, rehabilitative disabilities, stroke and traumatic brain injuries ride at the center to help with their healing. Among the riders are veterans and soldiers, cancer patients and people coping with depression, anxiety and grief.
    “There’s a natural connection between animals and humans,” Baker said. “Combine that with hundreds of volunteers — certified trainers, therapists, volunteers and specially-trained horse — and we get results you can’t get in a clinical setting.”
    Katie rides twice a week at the center, improving her core strength and confidence. Trotting is her favorite part of the ride.
    Walking — and sometimes trotting — through 25 acres of sensory trails, riders have fun while getting the exercise and physical therapy they need.
    In inclement weather, they ride in the barn where you’ll hear The Oak Ridge Boys and The Hard Travelers and bid in silent and live auctions. Barn doors open at 5:30pm, with music starting at 7:30pm.
    1141 Sunrise Beach Rd., Crownsville. General admission $45; premier seating and artists’ reception $150: 410-923-6800; www.horsesthatheal.org.