This is the article I wrote for Saddle and Bridle magazine about this wonderful place! Photos are in the next post. Please take a moment to view them!
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The Lone Star Showstopper’s are a very involved youth group here in Texas. More specifically, they are the youth group from Lone Star Saddlebred’s in Magnolia located just North West of Houston and under the direction of owners/trainers Koren Mercer and Milo Jones. I had the privilege of tagging along as they took a tour of SIRE’s Therapeutic Equestrian Center this weekend located in neighboring Hockley, Texas.
“We don’t just want this to be a Saddlebred riding club.” Koren emphasized, “rather a combination of events and experiences that will offer life long memories as well as having educational benefits!”
SIRE, which stands for Safety, Integrity, Respect and Excellence offers riders with physical, emotional or mental disabilities the opportunity to improve their quality of life through horseback riding and therapeutic activities. Physically, the movement of the horse provides sensory stimulation to the body and brain of the rider that affects a variety of muscle groups. The pelvic movement of the horse reproduces the proper motion of the human pelvis at the walk while sitting astride a horse, something that is not true with any other animal. Emotional benefits include building self esteem, confidence, self reliance and a sense of accomplishment. Another immeasurable benefit is that when a rider who may be confined to a wheelchair or crutches for everyday activities, is atop a horse, they no longer have to look up at everyone. On the back of a horse, they are equal or many times taller!
When we arrived on that very cold Saturday morning, we were greeted by Wendy Cook, who works in Development and Marketing, Pat Roddy, the Managing Director and Jeanie Gardner, the Head Riding Instructor who escorted us through the stables and into the back covered riding arena where Master Certified Instructor and Hockley Site Manager, Anthony Busacca, was giving a group lesson. We watched as one by one, the tacked up horses were led to a special mounting platform where the rider was waiting and assisted by 3 people to mount. Once securely seated, the horse was led into the arena and the work began. This class could walk and trot, learning how to address the reins, taking instruction and working over an assortment of ground obstacles. This was a more advanced group, so although each rider had a header, they did not need side walkers. After riding in the arena, the group went on a short trail ride. When the lesson was complete, each rider dismounted in center ring without the assistance of a mounting block, thanked their steed and exited the ring wearing an infectious smile!
Founded in 1974, SIRE established itself to Texas in 1980. The first task of any rider starting the program is to master Steady Eddie. Steady Eddie is a full size model horse bolted to the ground beside a large wooden mounting platform. It is here where clients learn not only to mount, but also basic grooming and tacking skills. Other training equipment used is a barrel, girthed with vaulting gear for stretching stiff leg muscles, and a electric wooden horse affectionately named Peggy the Pony that teaches posting and reining! While SIRE’s primary focus in the beginning was for handicapped children, the program has evolved to include many adult riders. “We currently have riders ranging in age from 3 to 70 years old. Some, starting as children, have matured not only physically, but also have become more advanced riders! Because of this, SIRE has changed its search for prime equine candidates. We no longer just look for small older ponies.” Pat told us. “We need larger younger horses as well as higher trained equines to constantly challenge our students. Additionally, SIRE has a pilot program called Horses for Hero’s that targets disabled Military Veterans. We currently offer both Western and English riding along with carriage driving.”
“I was grateful the girls were able to see a class.” Koren told me after our tour. “They weren't really sure what to expect, and I think it opened their eyes to another way horses touch people's lives. Talking about it doesn't have the same effect; seeing it in person makes so much more of an impact. It is our hope that some of them can come back and volunteer using their knowledge of horses to help others.”
SIRE is a 501c Non-Profit organization. With an average of 200 riders per week participating in one of their 3 Texas locations, they rely heavily upon volunteers as well as monetary donations. All instructors are NARHA certified, but almost any horse experienced person can volunteer to be a header or side walker. Without them, SIRE would not exist! For more information: www.sire-htec.org