The team of three is poised, each intently watching the prior team finish a routine. It has taken months of training, two days of driving and hours of preparation to get ready for this show and they want to know what the competition is like. Then as the announcer’s voice booms calling them to the arena, the team tenses. It’s time. Horse, rider and sidewalker proudly enter the arena.

They will win first class. It’s a significant accomplishment for any competitor. For Equestrians with Disabilities (EWD) it is an opportunity to show everyone what they can achieve. If not for the efforts of a determined young equestrian, his therapeutic riding instructor, and the support behind them, they may never have had the chance.

Corbett Ryan, a long-time rider at Partners for Progress (PFP), a therapeutic riding center in Wauconda, grew-up riding horses for pleasure and as therapy for his cerebral palsy. Competitive by nature, he wanted to show horses but the horse world didn’t have a place for a disabled rider. So, after being approached by the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), he worked with Partners for Progress Executive Director Diane Hegeland to develop the EWD program. In 2010, their perseverance paid off and NSBA hosted the first-ever EWD event at its national show.

Today, there are EWD events in over 30 shows across the country, with the largest being the annual All American Quarter Horse Congress, a month-long event where exhibitors, spectators and equestrians come from all over the world. EWD competitors are held to the same standards all other riders and are scrutinized by the same judges. Partners for Progress riders have been competing since the program began and they remain the only therapeutic riding facility in Illinois to compete in this circuit. “Corbett and I are so proud to be part of history in the making,” Hegeland says.

 Last summer PFP sent a team of riders to Congress, including Corbett and fellow riders Evan Zaloudek, Kelsey Weick, Garrett Trefz, Corbett Ryan, Max Kern and Kevin Cunningham. In total, the local team brought home 23 medals, including four first-place medals, three second place medals and four third place medals. Over the years, PFP riders have brought home more medals than they can count, all proudly displayed in the lobby of their barn, along with photos of their beaming owners. Kelsey, the 2018 Congress Champion, says: “I like showing on the show circuit and I feel awesome when I win all the trophies!”

Evan’s mom, Lorna, says: “Showing has given Evan so much confidence and pride in himself. He has better speech and eye contact and is more social when he’s at a horse show. He has found his passion, and for Evan it isn’t about winning, although he likes to win, it’s about being on a horse, any horse. In fact, he has won three NSBA World Championships, a Congress Championship and numerous Dixie National Championships. One thing I am so proud of is his sportsmanship. Even if he doesn’t win, he’s one of the first to congratulate whomever does.”

Anyone who has ever competed knows the effort it takes, both mentally and physically, to prepare for a game, a recital or a show. There are hours of practice, a financial investment, and miles driven to-and-from practices and competitions across the country. There is also the downtime as riders wait in stables or around the arena for their turn to compete; difficult for anyone, but even more so for those with special needs.

These riders not only rise to the challenge by learning their routines and performing in front of a crowd, but demonstrate patience, sportsmanship and, most of all, that there are no limits to what they can accomplish.

In 2019, Partners for Progress will host a series of NSBA and AQHA Horse Shows, a first for the organization. The events are open to the public on March 31, May 5 and May 19. The community is invited to attend to cheer on the wonderful local riders as they take the reins and reach for the stars.

About the Author: Karen Warlin is a board member for Partners for Progress, 23525 W. Milton Rd., Wauconda. To learn more about this not-for-profit supported by SW Lake Lifestyle please visit partnersforprogressnfp.org or call 847.438.5400.

What is Therapeutic Riding?

The gait of specially selected horses at Partners for Progress (PFP) mimic a human gait. When conducting physical, occupational or speech therapy while riding, the student interacts with and responds to the movement of the horse, causing the brain to respond as though the student is walking, so the changes continue even after they are off the horse. Improvements are seen in respiratory, cognitive, sensory processing, balance and speech/language functions, often many times beyond what traditional therapy can achieve.