Some volunteers are experienced with horses. Others, like Tyler Pell, are new to tasks like grooming and handling horses. Thirteen-year-old Julia, a student at Oak Ridge Middle School in Lake Wylie, has cerebral palsy and has been riding at Victory Farm since February. She rides Flint, who has proven himself well suited for his equestrian job specializing in therapy. Dory recalls early lessons with Julia, “Her legs hurt and had spasms so much that Julia couldn’t sit on the horse astride. I was on one side and Loren (a physical therapist aide) was on the other, trying to coax her tight little leg down onto Flint. It was like playing ‘Twister’ on the back of a horse. We probably spent 20 minutes getting her centered and into position, and
www.LakeWylieToday.com | Fall 2012
Flint stood quietly the whole time, watching intently as if asking, ‘How can I help?’” Just a few months later, Julia is riding Flint in the ring on her own, standing in the stirrups and learning to post up and down in the saddle. Her legs and back are straighter as her muscles and balance have gotten stronger. The staff at the farm calls her “Braveheart” for her courage, positive attitude and indomitable spirit. Julia thinks of Flint as her “partner,” two bonded souls who are on a path of recovery together. Flint takes care of Julia, particularly when she’s riding unassisted. As they walk around cones, if Flint feels Julia shift off center, he’ll stop and not move until someone helps her get adjusted again. “Horses are incredibly sensitive,” Dory said. “They can hear the rider’s heartbeat and breathing patterns, and feel every movement. Flint won’t let Julia slip.” When the students first begin to ride, it takes a team of four staff members to assist. One leads the horse, two walk on either side of the rider, providing a steadying hand, and Dory walks along coaching and instructing. As the rider gets stronger and improves, they advance to more independent riding activities. Dory worked with the Special Olympics for 14 years, and served at other therapeutic riding centers. “I had dreamed about having my own operation for awhile,” Dory said. “When I was laid off of my job a couple of years ago, my husband said, ‘God is trying to tell you that it’s time to do this full time.’ ” Dory contacted Larry and Brenda Thompson, who had their horse farm for sale. When they heard about what she wanted
to do, they agreed to lease the facility to her and have continued to live onsite. “It was a good fit,” Larry said. “The farm gets used, and what she’s doing with the kids is great. My wife and I are glad to be a part of it.” Currently, the Victory Farm program is run completely by volunteers, relying on donations from individuals and organizations. None of the staff, including Dory, are paid. Volunteers come from nursing programs, churches and service organizations, high school and college students, and individuals in the community. Some of the volunteers are experienced with horses, while others have never been around horses before. Dory teaches the volunteers how to handle the horses and the riders. Volunteers also help in fundraising efforts, website maintenance and administrative tasks. “It is awesome working with these kids and seeing what they can accomplish,” said Molly Norton, a veterinarian technician who volunteers on her day off. “It’s so uplifting, an incredible experience.” LW Want to get involved? Volunteers are always needed, as are your tax-deductible donations. You can sponsor a child for $350, sponsor a horse for $150, or donate any amount. For more information, visit www.VictoryRides.org.
Above: Julia performs stretching and balancing activites as part of her lesson. Left: Julia has progressed to a point where she can ride independently, with staff members close by to provide a steadying hand when necessary.
Lifestyle magazine covering the Lake Wylie community.