Horseback riding can renew physical, mental strength for kids

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 5, 2018

 Variety — the Children’s Charity of Detroit has offered a therapeutic horseback riding program for children with unique abilities for more than 40 years.

Variety — the Children’s Charity of Detroit has offered a therapeutic horseback riding program for children with unique abilities for more than 40 years.

Photo provided by Lexi Cerilli, of Tanner Friedman public relations

 Therapists working for Variety’s 4-H Handicap Horseback Riding Program use sessions to strengthen each participant’s existing abilities.

Therapists working for Variety’s 4-H Handicap Horseback Riding Program use sessions to strengthen each participant’s existing abilities.

Photo provided by Lexi Cerilli, of Tanner Friedman public relations

METRO DETROIT — Life saddles all of us with problems, but for little ones, finding a way to stride forward takes a bit of extra courage.

When Suha Kridli’s preschool-age daughter was first diagnosed with neuromuscular degenerative disease, Kridli committed herself to making sure little Maya never gave up on living life to the fullest — even when she became a wheelchair user and her weakening muscles made it hard to sit up on her own.

“I remember as soon as she was diagnosed, the doctor said, ‘Make sure you put her on a horse. She’ll benefit from that.’ I didn’t realize at the time why that was, because the degenerating wasn’t happening yet. But when she started needing back support all the time, I looked into therapeutic horseback riding,” said Kridli. “I asked a lot of questions, and this one program said she was a really good candidate for this.”

Kridli was directed to Variety — the Children’s Charity of Detroit, which for 40 years has offered its 4-H Handicap Horseback Riding Program for children with cognitive and physical challenges.

Specially trained instructors provide an experience that’s fun for kids and helps them reinforce existing abilities. A curriculum is tailored to each rider’s needs. 

“(Organizers) made it happen so quick, and Maya was riding with them in no time. The program was just phenomenal. The volunteers were amazing, and there’s this sense that everyone there cares. It’s a very loving place,” Kridli said. “By the end of that year, she was sitting without support. She benefited more from that riding program than any physical therapy.”

Six years later, her daughter is still riding with Variety at the Birmingham Open Hunt Club. It’s an activity that at other places would likely cost hundreds of dollars, but the charity takes care of the costs for participants.

Because of the prohibitive cost, getting some one-on-one time with a horse might not be available to all kids, despite the physical and spiritual benefits that could be had for those with serious illnesses. 

Camp Casey, a nonprofit horseback riding program for children with cancer and rare blood disorders, has been making buckaroo wishes come true since 2004.

The organization offers three cost-free programs for qualifying families in need: Horsey House Calls, Cowboy Camp Outs and Outlaw Outings. But it’s probably best known for the house calls, when the group surprises children with a horse right on their own doorstep and provides an afternoon of fun, including riding their horsey friend around their neighborhood.

It’s a much-needed day of respite for children struggling each day with devastating illnesses, like Birmingham’s Alyssa Leighton.

“How uplifting it was to see the joy on all the kids’ faces as they took time to enjoy life, removing themselves from their hospital rooms, doctor’s appointments and regular routine,” Denise Leighton, Alyssa’s mother, wrote in an email after attending a Camp Casey event with her daughter while Alyssa was being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was so beautiful to join the campers while horseback riding, at the waterpark, roasting marshmallows at the campfires, watching the rodeo. We’re still amazed at the kids’ collective strength and happiness even while experiencing such great challenges.”

More than 10,000 individuals affected by childhood illness have been impacted by Camp Casey, according to Executive Director Molly Reeser. And they’ve got no plans to stop, so they need to find a bit of extra fodder needed in the stalls.

“The Gold Rush Gala is an excellent way for Camp Casey and its supporters to celebrate the end of our current programming season and begin to raise funds and awareness for the next,” Reeser said in a prepared statement about the annual event taking place this month.

The Reserve in Birmingham will be the site of this year’s gala at 7 p.m. Sept. 14. Guests will enjoy strolling hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, a silent auction, a dessert auction and plenty more to give guests a chance to give back while they get a night out on the town.

“Whether you’re interested in bidding on a unique silent auction item or digging for gold at our Mining for Wine and Whiskey booth, no guest seems to leave empty-handed,” Camp Casey Community Relations Manager Kristen Adgate said in a prepared statement.

Tickets for the Gold Rush Gala cost $100 each and can be purchased at camp-casey.org or by calling (877) 388-8315.