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Online Exclusive - Posted November 16, 2012 10:12 a.m.
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photo by Ethan Black
Hadley White (left) and Boss, trainer Brigitta Bogan (center), Tannah Henley and Mozart Masterpiece, and (right) Melanie Martin

Healing Horses

Local Arabian Horse Club seeks to include competitors from all walks of life

With its large, robust physique, sleek coat, and dependability in the field, the American Quarter Horse has been the go-to breed for many local ranchers. And while it’s loved by scores of Texans, a few local folks have taken an interest in a breed descended from the Middle East.

Like its counterpart, the Arabian horse is known for its dependability. In addition to being one of the world’s oldest and most well-known breeds, it carries the title of being a world-renowned endurance horse. This animal is able to run extreme distances without tiring, whereas the Quarter Horse is known more for its short-burst ability. But perhaps the most unique quality of the Arabian horse is its disposition.

Show Coordinator and Crown of Texas Arabian Horse Club member Melanie Martin explains, “I think everyone has a personal preference [with breed selection]. Arabians are very friendly and they have a kind disposition in addition to being very versatile which allows you to show them in a number of events. They are very sensitive, beautiful and courageous. They are also very good with kids.”

All of these qualities help the club successfully host events like their annual Open Fun Fall Horse Show. The event, which took place Oct. 27, highlights the accomplishments of the club’s hard work and commitment to their community. “This is an all breed show. We had Quarter horses, Arabians, gated breeds, and even ponies competing in our show. Also, this event is really special because we have some competitors showing with learning disabilities. This is the only show that is designed for kids like that to participate,” continues Melanie.

This inclusion means that riders with special needs are not in their own class, but are assimilated into able-bodied classes, something therapeutic horse riding specialist Brigitta Bogan takes very seriously. “Since there are no shows here for EWD (Equine with Disabilities) riders, I put my kids in classes with the other able-bodied competitors,” Brigitta says. “They really can ride and compete against able-bodied riders. I had four compete at the Fall Horse Show. Most of them have aspergers [disorder].”

Brigitta, who is originally from the Netherlands, has been riding for more than 40 years. “I competed in Europe at a high level. I was practicing one day and a little kid came up to me and pulled himself up on the saddle. He was autistic. He had never spoken a word and I just gave him a ride,” she explains. “The family came back to me the next day when I was practicing and said to me the kid finally started making sounds. He kept riding with me and little by little he started talking. I really got into it after that.”

Brigitta’s training not only develops children with special needs, but it also seeks to help soldiers coming home that may be struggling with the readjustment period. “I’ve also gotten involved with equine psychotherapy with Iraq veterans,” Briggita details. “They have been trained to do what they are told to do, and then suddenly they have to look outside the box to solve problems without rules and regulations. Some of them can’t do it. They will keep asking, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and I will tell them to figure it out. At first many are angry. But over time, they learn to work independently and really grow on their own with the horse.”

Therapeutic riding has been beneficial for the development of both of these subgroups within the equine world. Brigitta’s horses are specially trained and have a tremendous amount of experience working with both children and soldiers who need assistance. It is this time and commitment that has allowed those with special needs to not only participate, but also compete at these horse shows.

Hadley White was one of Brigitta’s riders. After exiting the arena, her face was filled with tears of joy from the opportunity to compete alongside her peers. Not only did Hadley compete, but she also won her class. Her vivacious gestures mixed with the emphatic outbursts of happiness were so profound they simply cannot be put into words.

Brigitta and the Crown of Texas Arabian Horse Club share this similar passion for horses. Both seek to provide a safe and comfortable environment for competitors, ex-soldiers, and those with special needs to learn and grow through the companionship of a horse. Those that attend the club’s events are fortunate to witness an excellent display of competition, showmanship and more importantly, personal triumph for some of the competitors. Briggata has experienced first-hand the need to ensure those with special needs feel accepted and equal. “It makes [special needs riders] feel good that they are no different and that they can do exactly what others are doing,” she says.

In addition to the two annual horse shows that the Crown of Texas Arabian Horse Club hosts, the organization also works to increase awareness about the breed through the club’s involvement with the Horse Tails Literacy Project. Originally founded as the Black Stallion Literacy Project after Walter Farley’s book The Black Stallion, Horse Tails Literacy Project was developed as a reading program for youth across the country. Children are given books at school and as the year progresses, they have the opportunity to meet a horse to further enrich the learning process. Proceeds from events like the club’s spring and fall horse shows help to fund this project.

by Ethan Black

Ethan is currently finishing his graduate degree in Sport Management from West Texas A&M University, with an emphasis on Sport Sociology and Marketing. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports and spending time with family and friends.
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