Every great story starts with someone. At Kids & Horses, our story started over 20 years ago when our founders, Sam and Lorri Waldman, set their dream into action. We began there, but the rich history of therapeutic riding stretches farther back to the individuals who originally shaped it. Such were Lis Hartel and Jubilee, a woman suffering from post-polio paralysis and the mare who carried her through a painful recovery onto the international stage.
“As a girl, she had taken up riding for the simplest and purest of reasons; because it was fun. As a woman, schooled in the severest adversity, she had learned that it could also be therapeutic: a stepping stone from disappointment and self-doubt to a fuller emotional life.”
Max Davidson, “Fields of Courage: The Bravest Chapters in Sport.”
In 1944, when Polio left twenty-three-year-old Lis Hartel without the strength to even lift her hands, it seemed her life-long pursuit of riding and competitive dressage was over. Months of painful rehabilitation taught her to crawl and eventually walk with crutches. Still, she remained weak and paralyzed from the knee down. Doctors said she’d never ride again. However, this grim verdict was soon to be disproven by the four-legged friend waiting in the barn.
Lis had the determination to try riding again; Jubilee, a quiet, bay mare, had the patience to make it possible. As Lis’ daughter affectionately said, “Jubilee was brilliant! She always stood still like a statue every time my mother was lifted on and off her. She was such a clever horse.” It was a challenge for Lis to learn to ride again and Jubilee to learn to be ridden in this unconventional way. Attentive and smart, Jubilee followed the slightest cues from Lis’ weakened hands performing elegant steps and graceful movements as Lis used subtle weight shifts in lieu of leg aids. Lis wasn’t just riding—she was doing dressage.
Riding on a string of miracles, this team entered Olympic Dressage in 1952 and brought home the silver medal. Despite her riding career’s continued success, it was Lis’ “other work” that mattered most. “Lis always said she considered her greatest accomplishment to be opening the first Therapeutic Riding center in Europe,” wrote Leslie Wylie for Horse Nation. “Her advocacy of riding for people with disabilities was one of the major forces for making therapeutic riding an accepted rehabilitation.”
Because of Lis’s determination and inspiration, the use of horses in therapeutic atmospheres has advanced and grown in ways that we get to see today on our property. Sam and Lorri Waldman began their dream by opening a therapeutic riding center much as Lis did. (Though they refer to the same thing, our center has opted to refer to therapeutic riding as adaptive riding. This newer term helps prevent confusion for families, volunteers, insurance companies, and media sources. It is easy to morph the word therapeutic into therapy which would be misleading.)
Toward the end of March 2019, ten-year-old Jacob Tucker arrived at Kids & Horses for his first adaptive riding lesson. It was evident that he was feeling very nervous. Nobody was sure he would even get on a horse, but he did. It was the beginning of his love for horses and riding.
With encouragement from his team, Jacob started showing less and less anxiety during every ride. He formed a quick bond with Reviellena and began eagerly learning one riding skill after another. His team began implementing horseback exercises that targeted leg and core strength to improve his posture, increase endurance, and prepare his muscles for more advanced riding skills. One of these exercises was two-point: the rider rising to a standing position in the stirrups. His team made it a game to see how many seconds he could hold the position. The first few times, Jacob could not hold it longer than a few seconds. He kept practicing every week, and now, he can easily maintain the two-point position for over a minute.
Several months ago, Jacob transitioned off of Revi and started riding Whiskey. Jacob proudly rides off lead during most of his lessons. During each lesson, he consistently shows the skills he has learned in the past year by guiding his horses where they need to go, independently untacking his horse after each ride, and even successfully slowing down after his horse breaks into an accidental trot. Also, it’s worth mentioning that he has achieved the fastest time in every barrel race at the walk since September.
Jacob’s strengths as a rider have improved dramatically, but the growth of his self-confidence has been one of the most impressive results. Last year, Jacob felt he wasn’t ready for the horse show, but this year, his name was one of the first ones on the board. His progress has impressed everyone who has had the opportunity to watch or participate in his lessons. Since his first ride, Jacob has grown to be a much more confident, skilled rider. We’re so proud of all the progress he has shown.
Here at Kids & Horses, the impact of those who, like Lis, championed therapeutic riding is still being felt today. Others, like Jacob, now have their own stories of challenge and victory to tell.