Riding Therapy Program Marks 15th Anniversary

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CART volunteers, mainly from U.Va.’s Madison House, which organizes students for community service projects, took off running after a posse of donkeys at the start of donkey obstacle course event. Volunteers were supposed to get a donkey to walk around a barrel just once. The donkeys nimbly scampered away and defied being caught until the volunteers decided that only open-handed diplomacy was likely to get the donkeys’ trust. Even then, the donkeys stayed in charge and CART director Sarah Daly herself could hardly manage to persuade a donkey to go in the direction she wanted it to.
CART volunteers, mainly from U.Va.’s Madison House, which organizes students for community service projects, took off running after a posse of donkeys at the start of donkey obstacle course event. Volunteers were supposed to get a donkey to walk around a barrel just once. The donkeys nimbly scampered away and defied being caught until the volunteers decided that only open-handed diplomacy was likely to get the donkeys’ trust. Even then, the donkeys stayed in charge and CART director Sarah Daly herself could hardly manage to persuade a donkey to go in the direction she wanted it to.

Charlottesville Area Riding Therapy marked its 15th anniversary at an event May 2 at its ring and stables at Fried Family Farm near Innisfree Village in Brown’s Cove.

“We are so lucky to be able to stay here and flourish,” said CART director Sarah Daly. “It’s like one big happy family. There’s never a sad face here.”

The program assists riders with a variety of special needs, some of who continue with it for many years.

CART offers spring, summer and fall sessions. Riders come six days a week and are typically on one of the program’s nine horses for an hour at a time. Each rider usually requires the assistance of three volunteers. About 40 U.Va. students are now helping out.

“People who have diseases that affect their sense of balance, such as cerebral palsy, can regain their balance by picking it up from the gait of the horse,” said CART founder Maureen Oswald. “For riders with emotional disabilities, the horse gives honest feedback. If you’re kind, it gives kindness back.

“The generosity of the Frieds in letting CART be here is like getting a piece of heaven. It’s a respite for parents where they can see their child exude joy. Life with a child with disabilities can be stressful.”

CART board member Carla Gress of Ivy said, “There are life lessons for the kids in learning to control the horse.” Her son Evan was a rider and is now a volunteer along with his sister. “Evan tossed away his walker in third grade after he started with CART,” she said. He walks nearly normally now.

“[U.Va.’s] Madison House has been incredible,” said Oswald. “The students are here and its Finals week. It awes me.”

The volunteers got a riding reward themselves by trying their hand at polo as part of the event. The white team eventually beat the blue team 2-1 in a match where no horse ever broke a walk and mallets fanned the air trying to strike the ball.

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