Big changes on horizon for riding center

TWIN FALLS — CLOMP CLOMP. CLOMP CLOMP.

Lucky of LexLin trotted easily around an arena May 3 south of Twin Falls, her leg feathers, tail and mane blowing in a gentle breeze.

CLOMP CLOMP. CLOMP CLOMP.

Her rider, Madalyn Porath, rose slightly in the saddle with every other clomp, smoothing the ride.

“Her gait is a little different (from a saddle horse),” Madalyn said. “She rides more like a draft horse.”

The 8-year-old Gypsy Vanner horse will soon make herself at home at Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center ‘s new facility southwest of town. For now, she’s staying at Madalyn’s grandparents Chris and Jerry Dickard’s small farm southeast of Twin Falls.

The nonprofit organization won the mare last year from LexLin Gypsy Ranch in Rockwood, Tenn., in a national online contest. Since 2009, LexLin’s “Gift Horse” program has donated 65 Vanners to spread the awareness of the breed as therapy horses.

Lucky had never been ridden before coming to Idaho last summer in the Dickards’ horse trailer. Now she’s well on her way to becoming a therapy horse at Rising Stars’ new, yet unnamed, facility.

“There’s still a lot to do at the new place,” said Madalyn’s aunt, Director Marni Porath. “We’d like to see the outdoor arena open by June 1.”

The Vanner breed is “unflappable,” the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society says. Bred by Gypsies after World War II to pull caravans, the horses are known for their short, muscular bodies and calm disposition.

“We love seeing the impact this amazing breed has in therapy programs,” Suzy Brown, with LexLin Gypsy Ranch, told the Times-News last year. “They’re perfectly suited for the work with their size and temperaments.”

Though Lucky is a pretty mare, she wasn’t chosen for her looks.

“She is so gentle,” said Madalyn, a dental hygiene student at the College of Southern Idaho.

Therapy horses are an invaluable tool used to change the lives of people with special needs.

Lucia Pixton’s son, Carson, is 4 years old. His autism had rendered him nonverbal.

“We weren’t seeing a ton of progress with speech therapy until he started therapy at Rising Stars last summer,” Pixton said. “Then he started speaking more and his personality grew. He has made leaps and bounds since attending hippotherapy.”

Carson first found horseback riding a little out of his comfort zone, his mother said, but he adores the horses now.

That’s understandable, longtime volunteer Bob Rynbrand said Friday.

“The motion of the horse helps strengthen the client’s core muscles and enables the rider to feel the motion of walking,” Rynbrand said.

Now, Carson “hates having to get off the horses,” Pixton said. “He’d ride all day if we’d let him.”

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Adults with special needs say that riding has opened up new worlds for them.

Rising Stars has been a great addition to Donna Grasso’s autism, space and sensory therapies. She’s been riding with Rising Stars’ help for years.

“They help me with my balance, self-confidence and self-esteem,” Grasso said. “And I have fun.”

For years, Rising Stars has served some 90 clients, offering hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding at Stargazer Arena south of Twin Falls. But last summer the organization purchased 20 acres with a barn and pastures — and the new facility needs a new name.

A few of the suggestions have come in on Rising Stars’ Facebook page, including Riding High Ranch, Hope Ranch, Star Gate Ranch, Majestic Acres, Rainbow Ranch and Rising Star Ranch. The board of directors has been busy getting ready for the new facility’s grand opening in June, Marni Porath said, and haven’t had time to make a decision.

The nonprofit is also looking for volunteers to build fence, paint and do other chores before the grand opening, as well as volunteers to help clients and walk horses, including Lucky.

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