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Special needs riders saddle up for competition

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It’s been said there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man, and at Stable Strides Farm in Flower Mound, riders with disabilities are getting a chance to find out for themselves just what riding a horse can mean.

From the youngest rider who is 2-years-old all the way up to a woman who is old enough not to want her age published, this group of special needs riders are boosting their self confidence, strengthening their muscles, and opening their hearts to the joy of horseback riding.

“If you can’t use your legs, but you are on a horse that walks, you get a sense of accomplishment and a way to be whole. It’s a unique way to complete the picture,” according to Amanda Cleveland, who founded the Stable Strides Farm nonprofit organization in 2001.

The program is located at Bridlewood Stables in Flower Mound and the goal is to give riders with disabilities a place to learn to become effective and competitive horse people.  However, the benefits don’t stop there, as their accomplishments in the horse arena transfer right over into the arena of life.

“We are teaching independence in life through independence in riding,” Cleveland said. “The arena of life is what we all need to be successful in.”

Stable Strides success stories range from a child learning to make eye contact, to a young lady who was able to get a job in a horse barn, to many, many awards being won. Cleveland has been teaching riding lessons for the past 10 years and has a degree in education with specialties in Special Education and History.

“Our riders have won several world titles in PHBA and ABRA as well as 5 AQHA High Points for the Nation in AQHA EWD including the first ever Showmanship, WTC English Equitation and WJL Western Horsemanship,” she stated, adding that it is all about a rider being able to take their goals to the next level, whether it is verbally communicating or winning an award.

The Harrell’s of Lantana are one family that has witnessed the transformation that Stable Strides can facilitate. Their 13-year-old special needs daughter, Anna Grace, has benefitted enormously, according to her mother Jana, who said Anna Grace began to change for the better from the very first day she met Cleveland. It all started with a smile.

“That was the beginning of a life change for our daughter. Through Mandy’s encouragement Anna Grace is continuing to learn new horsemanship skills. Mandy believes Anna Grace can do it and now Anna Grace does too. Anna Grace now participates and places in several shows for challenged riders throughout Texas and Oklahoma. She has been riding for two years now, two times a week and has no plans to ever stop.

“Our quiet, insecure, floppy, lonely child has blossomed to be a very inquisitive, talkative, confident, upright and social child. Her friends that she has met at Stable Strides are so important to her. They hug each other when they see each other, talk to each other on Facebook and encourage each other. Anna Grace had never for 11 years experienced these types of friendships. Stable Strides provides a safe, loving and encouraging atmosphere for our daughter to experience the joy of friendships, the pride of overcoming her fears and the pride of achieving a goal. Our experience with the club has changed our lives,” she said.

There are currently about 50 riders participating at Stable Strides, and Cleveland said new clients are welcome. Riders do pay for their lessons, but the nonprofit has never turned away someone who could benefit from the program that wasn’t able to pay. Cleveland, who found her niche early in life as she volunteered as a high school student in an equine therapy program, said the program is her passion. “Sometimes you are just lucky enough to find where God wants you to be,” she said.

For donation opportunities, contact Amanda Cleveland at stablestrides@aol.com or 940-595-3600. For more information on Stable Strides Farm visit www.stablestridesfarm.org.

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