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Conservatory’s special group of riders

By Kay S. Pedrotti It’s a long way to the ground from the back of a horse when you’re just a little kid but a group of special needs children are learning to be excited about riding. Lamar County’s Conservatory for the Arts has begun a program of therapeutic riding for special education students from Lamar and several surrounding counties. ’We opened up the class to the region because we had room for 16 riders,’ said Trish Henry, conservatory director. ‘This is a program that has proven to be extremely beneficial to special needs children. It helps develop core strength, joint mobility, coordination and balance. Plus, they’re out in the fresh air.’ At the second session of the eight-week riding program last Saturday, Henry served as one of the helpers for Gretchen Ahrens, program instructor. Ahrens is director of the Equestrian Center at Camp Calvin in Hampton, where the class is held. Henry said Ahrens’ program was chosen ‘because of their very high level of professionalism and attention to safety ‘“ it’s a well-respected facility.’ Among the riders and their parents present were twins Joel and Matthew Blevins and Tricia Blevins, Zac Mayfield with Scott and Heather Mayfield, all of Milner; and Lily Kellam with her mom Karyn Kellam of Forsyth. Each rider’s time on the horse was done individually with a helper on either side of the animal. Ahrens shouted encouragement such as ‘Okay, now do you remember what to say to make the horse stop? Yeah! Whoa! So bring the reins back toward you and tell him to ‘˜whoa.” Heather Mayfield commented, ‘We’ve been practicing ‘˜whoa’ and ‘˜giddy-up’ with Zac. He’s got the ‘˜whoa’ but the ‘˜giddy-up’ is a little harder.’ Because the program is a bit strenuous for the children, Henry said they may be ‘just pooped’ when they get finished riding. Tricia Blevins confirmed that: ‘You wouldn’t believe the long nap Joel took last week.’ Henry said she and Cindy Green of Lamar County schools will be taking the training course for therapeutic riding assistants. A special volunteer in the program, Henry said, has been rider mom Ashley Hill, who does a newsletter for the families and sponsors. Sponsors of the program, which costs $230 per child, include the Barnesville-Lamar County Kiwanis Club, United Bank, Horsetown, Truett’s Grill in Griffin and Dr. Douglas C. Kallis. Henry said all donors are welcome and grant funding also will be sought. Other programs of the conservatory at the moment are fencing and karate, with class openings in both. For information call Henry at 770-344-9120 or email

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