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Taking the Prize

Therapeutic horses make good riders

Riders had their day in the sun at Maryland Therapeutic Riding’s Spring Horse Show.
    Green pastures and paddocks surround an indoor arena as good as you’d see on the hunter/jumper show circuit. Overflow spectators parked along the lane under shady trees. In arena and show ring, volunteers abounded, helping families settle and riders prepare to mount.
    Wheelchair ramps led to mounting blocks where riders from teens to middle age met their horses, the weekly partners who teach them steering and control. At Maryland Therapeutic Riding the horse is the teacher, imparting balance to people with physical, developmental or emotional issues.
    Smiling 16-year-old Mitchell Wilson has formed that bond with his mount, a chestnut horse named Apollo. Mitchell said that he always rides Apollo in his lessons.
    A high school freshman, Mitchell is happy to be riding in the Spring Show.
    Maryland Therapeutic Riding in Crownsville is a sought-after place. “You have to get on a waiting list,” explained Sylvia Wilson, Mitchell’s mother. When the Wilsons moved to Anne Arundel County, they ­immediately applied for a spot. “Once a child starts coming here, they want to stay for a long time, so you have to wait for an opening.”
    This is a banner year for Mitchell, entering high school as well as starting Maryland Therapeutic Riding, let alone riding in its show.
    Mitchell rode in a therapeutic program through grade school in Prince George’s County. As a middle schooler, he bowled in winter and played bocce ball in spring while waiting to ride again.
    Mitchell gets around with a special walker. He can sit in it, or he can stand and turn himself so that the handles offer him support. To climb onto a horse, he uses a tall mounting block with a ramp and gets help from two volunteers to position his body in the saddle. Once mounted, he is the picture of confidence.
    Two escorts walk beside Mitchell and Apollo to the competition arena to make sure he is secure, while another volunteer leads Apollo. Mitchell holds the reins and squeezes with his knees. directing the horse as well as he is able. The other half-dozen riders in his class also have volunteers alongside.
    In the ring, the riders must steer around pylons, ask their horses to walk faster or to trot for a few steps, and to walk their horses through a grid of poles. At the end of the routine, all line up to await the judges’ decision.
    Each is awarded a trophy in categories such as Best Overall Trotting Queen, Best Overall Cowboy and Best Dressed to Impress.
    Mitchell was honored for Best Overall Horsemanship.
    “Mitchell’s posture, balance, coordination, control and social skills have all improved since he resumed riding,” his mother reports. His physical therapist anticipates graduation from walker to crutches.
    Mitchell chimes in about what he needs to focus on when he is riding the horse: “Who’s in charge,” he says with his trademark smile.