Guest column: Honoring a small pony with a big heart

A very special homegrown pony will celebrate a remarkable milestone by turning 35 years old in early March.

Guest column: Honoring a small pony with a big heart

A very special homegrown pony will celebrate a remarkable milestone by turning 35 years old in early March.

Comet, the chief equine therapist at Native Horsemanship Riding Center (home of Peninsula Therapeutic Riding), has served our community’s riding enthusiasts for most of his accomplished life.

To honor the occasion and to thank Comet for the gentle and patient lessons he has given to hundreds of children with special needs over the years, children at the Olympic Peninsula Boys & Girls Club will throw a party for him at the Kendall Unit in Sequim at 1:30 p.m. March 13. Cake and juice will be served to party guests.

And kids of different age groups will be invited to participate in a coloring and art contest. Nash’s Organic Produce will donate carrots for the kids to give to the little spotted guest of honor.

Long-time Sequim residents will recognize Comet as the diminutive but bold participant in many parades and festivals.

“He’s been with me since he was foaled in 1980,” says NHRC founder Yvette TwoRabbits, adding, “He’s won countless show and event ribbons, has patiently taught hundreds of children of all abilities how to ride and has helped heal and comfort veterans who are suffering from loneliness, depression, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.”

If you or your child have known Comet, you are invited to write a birthday card, “What Comet Means to Me,” for the scrapbook that she has created, a way to honor and forever remember this special pony who has given so much to our community’s youth for more than three decades.

On Comet’s wish list for birthday gifts are donations of hay, senior feed, horse treats, beet pulp, for him and his fellow equine therapists and cash to help sponsor riders with special needs. Please bring your gifts by appointment to NHRC, at 396 Taylor Cutoff Road.

Programs for various age groups and for veterans will start in May.

Established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2006, NHRC provides safe, professionally certified therapeutic riding lessons to children and adults with special needs.

It is the only such program on the entire Olympic Peninsula with instructors who are certified therapeutic riding instructors through the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. PATH sets and monitors rigorous program, safety and efficacy standards for lessons, quality of instruction, equipment, horses and arenas.

With Comet and 12 of his equine buddies and several devoted volunteers, NHRC runs programs for about 200 people May through September. They could expand year-round if a donor or company would fulfill their wish for a covered arena.

There are hundreds of children, adults, families and veterans in our community who could benefit from the healing power of riding and even simply by interacting with these magnificent animals. My own non-verbal son has participated.

Indeed, therapeutic riding is gaining in popularity as a legitimate treatment modality for people with conditions including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, speech impairments, paralysis, spinal curvature, multiple sclerosis and others. The diagonal gait of the horse mimics a human’s and provides valuable input to the rider’s brain and muscles, that can help improve mobility, sensory integration, posture, core strength and even talking and social skills.

Furthermore, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and at-risk youth also are known to benefit mentally and emotionally, by forming bonds with these large, powerful, yet gentle and non-judgmental creatures, by working on their trust, non-verbal communication and benevolent leadership skills; all are essential behaviors to earning equines’ respect and partnership.

Oftentimes, a person who has difficulty expressing their fears to family, friends, counselors, clergy or strangers in group sessions will open up in the quiet, gentle presence of a horse. “The horse is the real therapist,” says TwoRabbits.

A study of veterans in a therapeutic riding program near Fort Hood, Texas, for example, showed that the activity was much more effective at treating clinical depression and PTSD than traditional talk therapy and medication. (Lanning, B.)

NHRC currently provides services for veterans through Peninsula Behavioral Health. The fee for six weekly lessons is $200. Scholarships or DSHS respite funds may be available for qualified, low-income participants. Check with your caseworker.

For more information about horses’ natural healing powers, to book lessons for your child or group (any age), to volunteer, to donate funds to help underwrite rider scholarships, or to sponsor Comet or one of his buddies, contact NHRC at www.nativehorserc.weebly.com or 582-0907.


Cheryl Smith is a Sequim resident. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

 

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