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The first CHAMPs are crowned

Riders with disabilities took center stage at the Stars & Stripes Summer Spectacular Show June 27, held in conjunction with the 2017 AjPHA Youth World Championship Show. The all-breed Equestrians with Disabilities event offers classes approved by APHA, Appaloosa Paint Horse Club and National Snaffle Bit Association.

Current APHA members who showed a registered Paint in EWD classes also received points toward the Challenged Horseman and American Paints program. Implemented in 2015, CHAMPS is designed for equestrians with medically diagnosed conditions or impairments and offers opportunities for participants to show their Paints—and earn APHA-exclusive awards—at a variety of venues.

A familiar sight around the in-gate of Watt Arena was the abundance of red T-shirts worn by volunteers of Stars and Strides Therapeutic Riding Center in Weatherford, Texas. Established in 2012 by David and Theresa Miller, Stars and Strides is a PATH International certified facility.

The Stars and Strides group attends shows mainly during cooler months because the heat can sometimes be challenging for their riders. However, they pencil in the Youth World Show’s event.

“Our daughter, Courtney, was born with a variety of disabilities,” David said. “We started her in equine therapy when she was 10 years old and drove two hours one-way to take her to ride.”

As Theresa volunteered at the facility Courtney’s therapeutic riding center, she went through the process to become a PATH-certified instructor. They later opened Stars and Strides Stables, a nonprofit organization serving horse-loving adults and children with physical, emotional or educational disabilities.

“Theresa and I decided to start a facility in Parker County because there wasn’t one,” David said. “We started out with two riders and now we have 50 and are still looking to grow.”

Their lesson horses are retired show horses that have experience in a variety of events in both Western and English disciplines. With the help of volunteers, students are taught how to care for, handle, ride and manage horses to the best of their abilities. But they do not have to be taught to love their four-legged friends.

Sixteen-year-old Leah Sawyer has been volunteering at Stars and Strides for two years. Volunteers have to be at least 14 years old, and she started with Stars and Strides the day after she turned 14.

“I help with lessons, setting kids on and off horses, and will side-walk if some people have trouble keeping their balance,” Leah said. “I also do barn chores and work with the kids when they first get here. I think equine therapy is something they can look forward to. They feel independent when they are on a horse.”

Attending a world show is a lot of work–especially for a therapeutic riding center–but the ribbons, belt buckles and smiles leaving the show pen are worth it.


[Reprinting all or part of this news release is permitted, so long as credit is given to the Paint Horse Journal and a link provided to apha.com.]

About APHA

The American Paint Horse Association is the world’s second-largest international equine breed association, registering more than a million horses in 59 nations and territories since it was founded. APHA creates and maintains programs that increase the value of American Paint Horses and enriches members’ experiences with their horses.