Miles of Smiles event showcases clients' achievements
By SCOTT AUST
Leo and Neoma Davis drove down from Cozad, Neb., to watch their grandson, Kade Davis, 4, ride in Saturday's Miles of Smiles annual showcase at the Miles of Smiles Arena in Garden City.
Kade's grin never wavered as he rode a horse called Twister around the ring, accompanied by three adults who made sure the little boy stayed in the saddle.
"This is his second session. He did a fall session and then this spring. This is the first time we've been here," Neoma Davis said. "We're just looking forward to see what they do. We kept wanting to come and this was our perfect opportunity. He loves the riding. He's very excited."
Miles of Smiles offers children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social disabilities or injuries the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding, according to the organization's website. Its mission seeks to enhance health, independence and quality of life.
The yearly showcase is an opportunity for clients to show the public the things they have learned to do, Sara Brown, director of programs, said. About 17 people, ranging in age from 4 to a man in his fifties, participated Saturday.
"The turnout of the crowd, and the turnout of our clients, too, was good," Brown said. "Not all of them rode, but I think probably more riders took part in the showcase this year than we've ever had."
Leo Davis was impressed with Miles of Smiles and what they offered the kids. Judging by all the beaming faces, Davis agreed the organization lived up to its name.
"This is really something. My grandson, Kade, he loves it," Davis said.
Leon Hindman, Garden City, said he came down to support a friend, Patsy Brimm, whose great-granddaughter Tabitha Redden, 11, of Holcomb, was one of the riders.
"I enjoy watching them. I go to their auction every year. I don't really participate, but I enjoy seeing people. It's a really good program," he said.
All riders received a trophy marking their accomplishment. Most were enthusiastic about the award, like nine-year-old Jakobe Haunschild, who started riding horses through the program just this year.
"It's my first trophy ever," Haunschild said as he proudly showed off his trophy to his grandmother, Gloria Diaz.
Diaz said she and Jakobe's mom, Katelyn Woods, have worked hard with Jakobe on some behavioral issues, and she has noticed much improvement since he started participating in Miles of Smiles.
"He's had some anger management-type issues," Diaz said. "But now he has more patience, he's learning to wait. We've noticed a lot of changes in his behavior. We're so proud of him, and so proud of his progress. He loves it."
Richard Collins, president of the board of directors, manned the PA system during the event, walking the crowd through some of the things going on.
Collins urged people to show support, but not to clap or make sudden movements so as not to spook the horses, some of which he said were sensitive to loud noises.
"If you want to give a blank high five in the air, that's great," he said.
Collins said therapy horses run the gamut in size and breed, but must be well broke, with good dispositions and be in relatively good health.
While they rode around various obstacles and performed actions like moving a ring from a pole on one end and moving it to the other end of the arena or shooting a toy basketball at a hoop, riders were accompanied by walkers on either side.
Collins explained that side walkers are volunteers who walk along both sides of the horse to make sure the rider stays on the horse and gets the full riding experience and enjoyment of the activity.
Therapeutic horseback riding can help people with physical or emotional disabilities. Physically, it can help improve a person's flexibility, trunk control, balance and muscle strength. Emotionally, the connection with the horse can help improve confidence, patience, self-esteem and help develop social skills.
"There's just a variety of things they can benefit from," Brown said. "Some of the school age kids who maybe have problems learning, one of the games I play with them is the dice game, and some of them are learning to even count the dice. That's a big feat for some of them."
In dice, the student tosses a large stuffed dice to determine which obstacle in the arena to go to. Brown said it would be easy for a volunteer or teacher to tell a student what number they rolled, but it's more challenging for the student to determine the number by counting the dots.
In past years, the showcase was held in the evening and it was always hot. This year, it was switched to the morning and Mother Nature kept the temperature down.
"We were very lucky to have a nice, cooler morning than we've had lately. It was just very pleasant," Brown said.
More information about Miles of Smiles can be found on the organization's website: www.miles-of-smiles.org.