Farm Talk


September 25, 2013

EWD horse classes benefit disabled riders

Parsons, Kansas — Horses have long been credited for being beneficial to those with a wide array of disabilities. These positive benefits have helped prompt efforts to include disabled riders in horse shows.

Ben Johnson, Arkansas City, is an always-smiling example of how important equine interaction can be to those with disabilities.

The grin becomes wider, and is accompanied by a “thumbs up,” as the 22-year-old horseman, born with a development disorder, had his name called as results were announced after the Equestrians with Disabilities (EWD) class during the American Quarter Horse Association Show at the 2013 Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.

“Highlight of Ben’s life is riding his bay mare, Lily, in these shows,” Ben’s dad, Steve Johnson, said.

“The classes help build Ben’s motor skills and level of concentration,” explained Johnson.

With disabilities typical of autism, and deprived coordination, Ben’s physical and mental skills can only reach a certain limited level. However, riding and working with all aspects of his horses are credited with sharply enhancing the development.

Johnson, his wife, Arlene and their daughter, Renee Freund would always lead the horses when Ben was riding, until the South Central Stock Horse Association (SCSHA) added the EWD class to a show.

“Riders had to ride independently, so Ben began riding unassisted. We could see that it improved his level of concentration, and reduced internal and external distractions,” Johnson said.

Classes require participants to memorize a set pattern and ride their horses through the maneuvers like turning left, right and backing.

While Ben’s concentration has greatly improved, the competition includes those with various levels of disabilities, and he can still become distracted.

“Ben enjoys himself, is very personable and making friends. He’s one of the happiest exhibitors at every show.”

Since year-end awards are based on accumulated points — and Ben seldom misses a show — he’s collected several trophy buckles.

“He really likes his buckles, and it makes us proud too,” Johnson said.

For Ben to be able to ride, it takes the right horse. One named, Missie, who has not only helped Ben, but has gone on to another family needing a suitable horse for a rider with disabilities.

“She is a perfect babysitter. When Ben would get lopsided in the saddle, Missie would just move right under him,” Johnson added.

During her 4-H career, Freund rode and trained a number of top show horses, including Lily, who is now Ben’s mount.

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