Testimonies

Here are just a few stories about how people see SPIRIT program:

I feel honored to be part of anything that informs people of the impact of Spirit, and therapeutic riding on the lives of people – not just the riders but the families as well. There is nothing like the freedom and grace given by kind, loving, gentle giants. Truly they give wings, mindfulness and joy to all who are blessed by the power of their company.
(Katherine White, Instructor, volunteer, supporter)

Tommy

cropped-Tommy.jpg

Our Tommy started his life as a miracle, nearly dying before he was born. He learned to laugh and smile to himself, keeping the rest of the world separate. He couldn’t crawl, so he just rolled himself around the room, spinning from corner to corner. He seemed to have his own language and talked vigorously to himself. But then one day he stopped smiling and laughing, not even at the things he saw in his own world. He started to have seizures, trapping him in a blank, ugly place we couldn’t reach him, preventing him from eating, causing him to wither.

Then there were the doctors, the pediatric neurologists, the neurosurgeons. The doctors were kind. Tommy didn’t want to talk to them, or anyone. He would curl up into a ball and cry. We couldn’t reach him. There was the brain tumor. Was it more? Was it progressive? “Go home and enjoy him.” No treatment, no cure. One day this specialist, the next another. One day he would come home with electrodes decorating his head, the next to an MRI. Then to bloodwork. And another MRI. And on and on, so many issues, for Tommy a world of pain.

We were blessed that the tumor stopped growing. Thanks to wonderful teachers and specialists, we were able to get Tommy to come into our world over the years. He was clearly becoming receptive to us, but would not express anything. I didn’t know what his world was like, or how he perceived ours. How could he navigate our world? What did he think of our landscape?

I realized as he became more expressive, that the landscape of our world was pain to him. When we would go out on trips around town, he would say, “That’s where I got blood tests.” “That’s where there’s the MRI.” “That’s where there is Dr. Angel.” He could tell us what “MRI” stood for, but couldn’t tell left from right. He could mimic the sound of the hospital machines, but would cry at the sound of laughter. That was his understanding of the “real” world.

But then we saw the Spirit Open Equestrian therapeutic riding program. I had ridden horses when I was younger, and I remember all of the confidences I used to share with them. I hoped the horses could help Tommy be less frightened of our world.

We took him to get boots, breeches, and a helmet. And then to his first lesson. We were surprised that he wasn’t afraid of the ponies. After awhile, he smiled at them.

Tommy started talking about them to us. He was waking up to something nice in our world. He couldn’t wait to go to lessons. He talked about how the ponies breathe gently (“whiffle-snuffling,” as he says) and that he loves how they feel. He tells me that they help him talk. During his first lessons, you could see him struggling to respond to instructions on how to sit, how to hold the reins, where to look. He didn’t have much confidence in himself or the world.

But the wonderful thing about the Spirit program is that Ms. Dada and the instructors have this magic way of understanding each student’s needs, and pushing them just enough. They allow Tommy to be a kid, but they don’t condescend. There is a right and a wrong way to do things, and that has brought out a sense of accomplishment for Tommy, an understanding of goals.

Now, after two years of riding, Tommy’s landscape has changed. We drive down Fairfax County Parkway and he says “That’s where I go riding.” He saw a woman one time and told me “She looks like Ms. Dada. Ms. Dada is a good one.” We pass by the saddlery and he says “That’s where I get my boots.”

His teachers and therapists remark on his progress, his ability to socialize more. He now has a topic to share with people – horses – that anyone is happy to talk about. His world isn’t just hospitals or clinics.

Tommy still has his own world, but he’s willing to share ours, too. After 18 months of lessons, he trotted on his own. Ms. Dada looked at him and smiled and said “you’re very good at that!” Tommy grinned impishly and said “I know.”

Last month, at his 12-yr-old physical, he still didn’t want to talk to his pediatrician. The offices still remind him of pain. But then I mentioned he was riding. He suddenly looked up at the doctor and said, “I like Huckleberry! I’m talking about horses here!” And he did.

I cannot begin to tell you how much the program, Dada, the volunteers, and the ponies have meant to our family. The Spirit program is one of the reasons we will stay in the DC metropolitan area for as long as possible. Tommy would not be the same without it.


Amira

Amira

As a mother of a child with motor delays, I can’t say enough about the wonderful SPIRIT Equestrian program.

My daughter has a rare conditional called Moyamoya disease. Her condition caused her to have several very large and damaging strokes before she turned two years old. The strokes have caused her to have a substantial motor development delay.

Due to her motor delay my daughter has had many Physical Therapists over the years. Several therapist have highly recommended the SPIRIT program.

After years of waiting for her to turn 4 and many wonderful email exchanges with Dada, my daughter started lessons this summer. From the first lesson she completely fell in love with horseback riding. She loved her horse Lucy and talked about her for many days after the lesson. For all of her subsequent lessons she rode the horse named SPIRIT. SPIRIT is a great horse and my daughter loves every minute of her lesson. The wonderful exercises that they have her do have helped improve her core strength. All the SPIRIT volunteers have been wonderful.

This is an amazing program and we are so blessed to have Dada and the SPIRIT program in our lives.

Aaron

Sue

First, we would like to give heart-felt thanks to you and all the wonderful volunteers at the Spirit Open Equestrian Program. You all have made a profound impact in the lives of so many kids with special needs, including our son’s. As you know, our son Aaron suffers from spastic diplegia (a type of cerebral palsy) which significantly affects his ambulation, speech, and even his behavior in some ways. After reading about equestrian therapy on the internet and all the positive impacts for children with cerebral palsy, we began to look for equestrian therapy programs in our area. We were so pleased to find that your program was nearby and available both weekdays and weekends. If you recall, Aaron couldn’t even look at a horse without trembling and bursting into tears during his first few visits. With a good deal of patience and perseverance, Aaron has not only overcome his fear of the horses but has actually grown to love them and his weekly riding sessions. Over his three years of therapy, we have seen not only tangible improvements in Aaron’s body (improved muscle tone, strength, coordination, posture, and flexibility) but, more importantly, in his psyche. Your program has welcomed him, made him feel special and important, and improved his self-confidence. The physical improvements are marvelous but, to us, the benefit to his spirit is the real prize. Again, thanks to all that take part in your wonderful program and keep up the great work!

 

Nicole

SPIRIT is more than just a program, it has become a way of life.  SPIRIT has shown this community the kind of effect that animals can have on people——whether they have special needs or just need to feel special.
                                    Confidence comes from accomplishments.  Time and again, SPIRIT has given confidence to those who need it most—those with special needs and those who just may be going through a difficult time in their life. Once they gain that confidence from riding, it spills over into everyday life…not just when they are on a horse.
                                    We, as a family, have witnessed this first-hand.  Our daughter, Nicole, will be riding 5 years this September.  She has grown so much in the SPIRIT program.  As she has continued to ride, and progress in her skills, she has gained so much confidence in herself.  She SEES how far she has come and it makes her feel good about herself——for a parent, that intangible is priceless and is something we will ALWAYS be grateful for.
                                        BRAVO TO SPIRIT & ALL THE WONDERFUL WORK THEY DO & LIVES THEY ENRICH—-NOT JUST THE RIDERS, BUT THEIR FAMILIES’ & THOSE WHO WORK WITH THEM !! SPIRIT OPEN EQUESTRIAN IS A GIFT THAT CONTINUES TO GIVE….TO ALL INVOLVED !!!

Joshua

The Spirit Open Equestrian program has already made a significant difference in the attitude and behavior of our 10 year old grandson. He has moderately severe autism, has very limited verbal skills, and prefers his own company accompanied by large amounts of modeling clay and his iPad.

After only 4 therapeutic riding lessons, he is clearly excited by the thought of another riding lesson, is communicating with his horse and the instructional staff, and rewarding himself and onlookers with a big smile for his accomplishments. Ms. Suvak and her empathetic and gifted staff bring out the best in Joshua, treating him like a little boy capable of equestrian success — and he responds so positively to them. He is listening to directions and following them, clearly determined to succeed while enjoying the only therapy in his life that he thinks is fun! While we understand the physical and psychological benefits equestrian therapy provides, Joshua is just relishing this new experience and his evolving skills.

He has been in various types of therapy for the past 8 years and the Spirit program has evoked the most positive response in the shortest time. To hear him say, “Run, Spirit, run” followed by “That’s good!” is a tremendous breakthrough for him and a special moment for us. We are grateful to everyone at Spirit Open Equestrian for making it possible for our child to have this hour of happiness each week. We hope that more children like Joshua will be able to participate in this program in the future.


Nicholas and Luciano

I am the mother of 2 special needs boys, Nicholas and Luciano–ages 7 & 8–who have been privileged to attend the equine therapy program at Frying Pan Park. My sons were born with a genetic disorder called Fragile X and are developmentally delayed. They have not been able to participate in a lot of the normal play activities that other children their age enjoy. So when I found out about the equine therapy program for special needs children, I immediately signed them up.

When my sons first attended the equine therapy program, they were afraid of the horses and did not want to go near the fence that surrounded the walking ring. After working with the kind, well-trained volunteers, my sons gradually acclimated themselves to the gentle, patient horses. By the end of the equine therapy sessions, my sons ran to the gate of the walking ring and tried to climb over the fence to get to their favorite horses.

This program helped Nicholas and Luciano master their fears about very large animals, and they mastered the skill of riding a horse. They developed a love for the horses, volunteers, and they developed a lot of self-confidence through this program, which is a rare opportunity for special needs children.

Seeing my sons with big smiles on their faces, sitting tall on their horses, while riding around the ring, made my heart swell with pride and happiness. I know that my sons greatly benefit from and really need experiences in the community like this.

Thank you so much for investing in a program that has touched my sons, my family, and the community–for good! You made our dreams come true with your huge help.

Jenna

Just a few words to let you know we appreciate the program.

We joined the Spirit program in the fall of 2014.  We thought it might be a good option for our 10yr old (now 11yrs) daughter to help her with anxiety, confidence and focus.  This program has exceeded our expectations and has improved my daughter’s emotions tremendously.  She rides with confidence and now has an “I can do this” attitude about several aspects of life.  She is an animal lover and especially has a love for horses.  She has been exposed to several of the Spirit team horses and they all have been a pleasure to ride for her.  We have observed Ms. Dada’s interaction with each child and especially ours.  Ms Dada loves what she does and she is very passionate about it.  She cares deeply about the horses, riders and her volunteer team.  She spends independent time with each of the riders, makes them feel good about themselves and recognizes there improvements.  My daughter loves working with her and the encouragement she gives along the way is appreciated.  The volunteers that assist the riders are exceptional as well.  They all have very caring hearts and know how to assist each rider.  We are happy we found this program and have enjoyed every minute of seeing our daughter smile.  Thank you Ms. Dada and the Spirit Team for the time and passion you have for this program.

 

The Klein Family

 

Sarah

Ms. Suvak is a kind, generous woman who teaches her students from her heart. No matter how many years she has spent in this venue she continues to remain the warm, sincere woman who teaches with the utmost consideration of the individual, be it human or equine. Thus despite distractions or any other irregularities, Ms Suvak remains focused on the internal needs of her clients and their horses. Frying Pan Park itself is a busy venue; yet despite horse auctions, tractor pulls, State horse shows, 4-H Fairs and private equestrian lessons, Ms. Suvak works around these scheduled events to provide her clients with as much routine and continuity as possible.

Ms. Suvak’s program is a safely run program, with an intentionally cooperative atmosphere. While some equestrian programs can be restrictive to a degree that the student loses important learning opportunities, Ms. Suvak has a low student to teacher ratio so that her evaluation of each volunteer and riders’ skill is precise. She can carefully moderate and increase rider responsibilities accordingly. Other programs can be less attentive, seemingly offering more ‘hands-on’ learning. This often results in unsafe learned behaviors and reckless interaction with large unpredictable animals. Additionally, the program’s emphasis on volunteerism, brings everyone together so that each individual matters and has something to give to the group. This foundation of caring for others and seeing past disabilities helps all of us learn a valuable life lesson, that of seeing the true worth of a person.

Ms. Suvak offers a variety and depth of learning opportunities to provide development for every individual. She is indefatigable with her clients providing a safe, inviting environment. Her horses are carefully selected and trained for the safety of her clientele. Part of the reason my daughters are so attached to the Spirit program is because of its mission. They love being a part of “providing individuals with … disabilities … safe and fun horseback riding …” They know how powerful and fulfilling the connection to a horse can be and they want to help share it.

My daughter, who was recently diagnosed as twice exceptional with ADHD and gifted abilities, began riding with Spirit Equestrian this summer as part of the therapeutic riding program. Unlike other riding programs, director Dada Suvak, immediately recognized my daughter’s strengths, combined them with the skills needed for equestrian activities and used her strengths to improve areas of difficulty. Dada made her feel like a part of the “Spirit Team” by encouraging her to volunteer and share her talents with others. This led to her feelings of empowerment and opened possibilities for her.

From the beginning, Dada has understood my daughter’s needs and worked with her so ingeniously that my daughter only sees herself as a rider, not a rider with disabilities. To be able to teach like this is a rare gift. We feel truly blessed to have found this opportunity in a location that is accessible to our family.

My daughter had been hoping to ride for many years but opportunities in the immediate area have been limited. When we discovered that not only were riding lessons coming to Frying Pan Park, but that they had a therapeutic component, we were overjoyed.

Spirit Equestrian provides a unique opportunity in this part of the county. With the combination of riding and volunteerism, children gain skills that reach far beyond the riding arena.

Like many other programs, Dada and her dedicated team teach kids to ride and care for horses. But similarities stop there. With its emphasis on volunteerism, Spirit Equestrian brings together kids with and without disabilities in an environment where everyone matters and has something to give to the group. A child does not need to take riding lessons to volunteer. There are many children, teens and adults who make up the Spirit volunteer corps and gain immensely from the opportunity to be a part of something greater than themselves while sharing in the love of horses. I know that volunteering for Spirit will give my daughter a foundation of caring for others and seeing past disabilities to find the true worth of a person.

How many activities that our children are involved in can have that much impact on the people involved?

My daughter has gained so much from just her short association with Spirit Open Equestrian program. I truly hope that she will have the opportunity to continue to grow with the program as it reaches out to children with and without disabilities, brings down barriers and opens doors for all. As well, I hope that it continues to operate at Frying Pan Park, where it is accessible to so many and can showcase and champion therapeutic riding in a venue designed for riders of all abilities.


Devlyn

 

Our 19 year old son has been participating consistently as a therapeutic rider for several years in the Spirit Open Equestrian Program and we feel extremely fortunate for this opportunity.  Therapeutic riding is known to have physical, cognitive, emotional, and social benefits.  Only the best therapeutic riding programs achieve the delicate balance of seeing improvement in all of these areas by offering a thoughtfully, skillfully, and individually tailored riding experience for each of the students they serve.  Spirit is the best of the riding programs in which our son has participated.  Not only has he made significant gains in physical strength and endurance, coordinated purposeful movement, and balance; he has also improved his ability to listen, follow instructions, and maintain focus.  With the assistance of the skilled instructors and the many well trained volunteers, and with the opportunity to care for, interact and ride healthy well managed horses, we have seen our son develop, maintain, and build actual equestrian skills bringing him ever closer to his goal of becoming an independent rider.  This aspect of the Spirit Open Equestrian program sets it apart from others.  The goal is for each therapeutic student to advance to their highest potential and ability level while enjoying the friendship, comradery, and support of the Spirit team.  Through the Spirit program, our son has developed a new and enduring passion for all things equestrian.  By being a member of the spirit team he has not only begun to see himself as a more confident and skilled horseman but also as a friend, a team member, and as belonging to the world of equestrian sport.  If you ask him where he is the happiest, he will tell you it’s on the back of a good horse.

SPIRIT Testimonial

Anxiety, depression, Tourette’s Syndrome and Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS)…our 13 year old son, who’s adjustment to middle school was a challenging one with each of these factors exacerbating the others.  Our once exuberant boy was irritable, withdrawn, pale and ultimately unable to participate in any of the activities that once brought him joy because he was in too much physical pain.  His school attendance dwindled until he was finally put on homebound instruction during the 4th quarter of 7th grade. He spent most of his time on the computer or lying on the couch. His treatment involved SSRI medication for his anxiety and depression and psychotherapy.  Once the AMPS flared up, physical therapy became an added crucial part of his treatment.

A diagnosis of AMPS brings to light the profound connection between mind and body.  The pain is typically triggered by an injury, illness, or condition (in Steven’s case, likely the hypermobility in his joints), and in the vast majority of cases, emotional stress is also a significant contributing factor.  Clearly, in Steven’s case, this combination was what brought his symptoms to a head.  The course of treatment for AMPS is intensive psychotherapy (specifically CBT and mindfulness techniques) to manage the stress, and intensive physical therapy to “retrain” the nervous system.  While Steven was very receptive to the physical therapy, and he was a willing participant in weekly psychotherapy, his psychologist consistently reported that he was not really buying into the techniques of CBT or direct instruction in mindfulness techniques, so progress was slow-going.

Thankfully, I have an acquaintance whose daughter was a volunteer with the SPIRIT Open Equestrian Program.  I had often listened with interest as she talked about her involvement there, but I didn’t really have a clear picture of what it was all about.  But I did know that Steven loved animals.  Our family dog was often his source of solace.  He enjoyed raising backyard chickens.  He shied away from sports and groups of peers, but liked being out in nature.  I wondered if there was some way he could get involved with the horses.  I had an inkling this just might spark something in him.

After reading the descriptions of Spirit’s EAL and EAP offerings I consulted with the program’s director, Davorka Suvak (Dada), who seemed very astute in evaluating Steven’s needs and making recommendations as to how to best proceed.  We decided, since he had no real horsemanship experience yet, that EAP was the place to start.  This was perfect for Steven at the time, as he was just beginning to be more mobile, but did not yet have the stamina for the physical demands of the EAL program.  When I told him he would be having one on one sessions with a psychologist and the horses, he actually lit up.  And I can honestly say that from the very first session, the experience has been profoundly transformative.  Dr. Boie invited me to participate in that initial session, and during that 50 minute period, I found myself moved beyond words throughout.  As an art therapist myself, I am very familiar with the power of metaphor and indirect expression to bring about change and healing, and even so, I found myself in awe of how powerful this process was during Steven’s very first encounter with the horses.  Within his first few minutes among the horses, he identified with their “twitchiness” (this coming from a boy whose Tourette’s Syndrome causes constant involuntary movements), and after sharing with Dr. Boie that he was sad about a friend moving away, Buttercup, the horse he had been initially drawn to, gently nuzzled his shoulder and rested her head there.  It was clear that he felt immediately understood, accepted, and above all, safe among the horses.  This is truly the first scheduled activity in his life that he has eagerly anticipated and never asked to miss.  He has attended weekly sessions for about three months now, and his time with these horses as facilitated by Dr. Boie’s kind, gentle and insightful approach in guiding his interactions with the horses, has given him direct experience with the mindfulness and calm that he had never before been able to experience.  Additionally, in developing horsemanship skills, he has gained increased confidence, and perhaps most valuable, has cultivated a genuine interest outside of the home.

After about 6 weeks of EAP, the EAL program in combination with a weekly riding lesson through the therapeutic riding program was introduced to Steven.  Historically, he had been very reluctant to try new things, and in the past few years had completely rejected our attempts to encourage him to join an extracurricular activity.  However, his attachment to the horses and his desire to be in their presence was enough motivation for him to be willing to give EAL and riding lessons a try. I have to admit, I had some reservations.  It was hard for me to imagine that he would have the strength and stamina to participate for at least two 3 hour sessions plus a one-hour riding lesson per week.  This was more physical activity than he had engaged in for many months, but he was beginning to progress in physical therapy, and his therapist agreed that these “real world” activities would dovetail nicely with his goals of building core strength, improving posture, and general conditioning.  Although he finds it physically tiring, he has been hooked since his very first day.

I simply cannot say enough how all of the aspects of the SPIRIT program have allowed our son to recover, blossom, and begin to thrive again, by simultaneously healing him socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  He has found a community, among the horses, and among other teens and adults who share his love for them.  He feels safe, unjudged, and free to participate in an activity that has no competition or performance standards. It is simply valuable because of the inherent satisfaction it brings.  He feels valued and empowered by his growing horsemanship and riding skills, and because he is helping other young riders with developmental disabilities.  He is growing stronger physically and also learning that even when he has pain, he can still participate in the things he loves, and that the motivation to do so makes it worthwhile (and makes the pain more tolerable).  When he goes to bed at night, he latches on to thoughts about the various horses he knows rather than ruminating on worries, and when he wakes up in the morning, he is motivated to go to school, so he can get to the activity he enjoys afterwards. There is a greater sense of calm and ease about him in general.  The irritability has receded and his humor and joy are more present.

I noticed early on in his participation in the EAL program that as soon as he walked in the gate to greet the horses, his slumped posture immediately straightened, and he began to walk with purpose. Now, he has color in his cheeks from spending many hours each week outdoors, and he stands tall and walks with greater confidence wherever he goes.  We are beyond proud of his progress and grateful beyond words for the part that the SPIRIT Open Equestrian Program has played in supporting that growth.

Ginny

 

My daughter, Ginny, has been with SPIRIT’s team nearly a year. She has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic syndrome that affects appetite, growth, metabolism, cognitive functioning and behavior. In just a few short weeks of lessons I noticed significant improvement in her balance and trunk strength and although her speech is significantly delayed she is motivated to say many words to get Spirit, Colby and Infiniti to “go,” “trot” or “stop.” SPIRIT’s team, led by Davorka Suvak, Kate White, Whitney Fitzgerald and their dedicated volunteers are like “earth angels” to our family. They provide an environment where Ginny can do a physical activity in which she isn’t the slowest or most awkward. She loves to ride and even though she’s working on cognition, speech and physical feats while riding it doesn’t feel like the rest of our weekly therapies because it’s so much fun for her to do and for me to watch. Riding day is our favorite day of the week. The joy on Ginny’s face when she trots just melts my heart.


Lia

My daughter Lia is 11 years old and has been challenged since infancy with eyesight problems, struggles with fine/gross motor skills and sensory perception. She has distinct muscle weakness that has delayed her physical development and coordination. This has impacted her so profoundly throughout her life that she approaches every physical activity with fear and a lack of confidence.

Which is why when she started riding Spirit it was such a joy to see her happy and confident on that HUGE animal. I thought she would be fearful but she couldn’t wait for each lesson. It was so uplifting to hear Kate and Dada praise her and give her the courage to push herself to get better. I’m so excited for her that she has a skill that she can be proud of and share with her friends.

We are extremely blessed to have found the SPIRIT program and so grateful participate.


Cella

We have an almost four years daughter that is very seriously ill with extensive neurological and physical problems. We knew “Dada” as she call her almost one year ago. We never knew how much our daughter is missing by not having the opportunity to came in contact with the superb beings that are horses. The excitement, the warmth, the bond formed between what is wrongly considered an “animal” and our fragile daughter is hard to impossible to describe. And all this was facilitated with dedication, professionalism, generosity by Mrs. Suvak and her recovery team lead by Katherine White. We virtually found no equivalent for what our daughter is receiving by having horse therapy with this competent and passionate professionals both in terms of physical development support and from emotional and psychological point of view. Mrs. Suvak gained our complete trust and we are more than grateful for her help and highly valuable support. We can recommend her and her team without any reserve.

Thanks for all your understanding and hard work!

I really can see the difference you have made in my daughter, Jacqueline, and in Teyedings–both of them!!! I can see, too that Jackie’s confidence level and desire to ride has also increased, and as a result her fear and anxiety have also subsided.

Jackie, too, has verbalized to me that she really understands what you have been trying to teach her. She said, “I can feel it now!” referring to her independent hand and leg/seat contact with Teyedings. What progress!

Teyedings, our 12 year-old Trakehner mare, has been a handful for us, but your calm, confident approach toward her has made all the difference in being able to work with her. You truly are a gifted trainer with special abilities to communicate with horse AND rider!

We feel so fortunate to have you , Dada, as our trainer, and look forward to continued twice weekly lessons with you at “Hand-Me-Down” stables in Great Falls.


Peyton

Our daughter Peyton’s experience riding in the SPIRIT Therapeutic Riding Program has been absolutely phenomenal due in large part to the person who championed the program – Davorka “Dada” Suvak. Dada has surrounded herself and the riders in the program with professionals, most notably Kate White in the case of my daughter, who either work or volunteer tirelessly. As a client we can see no difference in the level of involvement and concern for our daughter between employees and volunteers. And the horses have been gentle spirited. Dada has a real gift in communicating with animals and children together, working gently and yet assertively, pushing and encouraging and making the experience rewarding and fun.

Peyton is crazy about Dada, Kate and Spirit and has benefited in numerous ways since beginning her riding early last spring. Peyton is currently a three year old who has been diagnosed with developmental delay, global and fine motor delays, ataxia and hypotonia. She has developed considerable trunk strength, stability, balance, improved walking skills and speech skills since riding in the SPIRIT Program. She had just started walking when she started riding with Dada and barely spoke. Additionally, Peyton continues to develop a spirit of confidence, exuberance and “can do” attitude which has benefited her tremendously. She is the twin of a normally developing 3 year old sister and has a normally developing brother who is 16 months older. So this opportunity to participate and excel in the SPIRIT Program has boosted her esteem within the family hierarchy. And Dada and her team have been very supportive of the entire family in our support of Peyton. We look forward to the hugs and smiles that greet all of us each week. And Peyton can’t get her helmet on fast enough to begin riding Spirit when we arrive for each lesson!


Robbie

I love riding with Dada, Kate and everyone at SPIRIT. But before I even get on the horse, I see why SPIRIT is needed in this community. A little girl rides before me. I know she has many medical problems, but when I see her and her parents, their faces are touched with joy, not worry about the future. The people at SPIRIT and the horses have given this little girl a place of fun and beauty in what must be a hard life. It is the same for me; it must be the same for other riders and that is why the community needs SPIRIT. — Matt

My son, Robbie, has blossomed thanks to Spirit, Infiniti and the incredible people who work with him and his horse. We are so lucky to have found Davorka Suvak, Kate White and the other kind, caring and talented volunteers who make each lesson the highlight of my son’s week. My son, who has been diagnosed with hypotonia, Ehlers-Danos Syndrome and gross motor delays, has benefited tremendously from therapeutic riding with SPIRIT and Infinity. Not only has his muscle strength and balance improved, but his self-confidence has increased dramatically due to his budding relationship with the horses and his instructors. Every time that Robbie’s lesson has to be canceled due to bad weather, we are so disappointed. We sincerely hope that SPIRIT, Infiniti and the rest of the team will find a home to allow their dedicated instructors to provide lessons every week regardless of weather conditions. We would be devastated to no longer be able to continue our weekly time with these wonderful horses, excellent instructors and amazing volunteers.


Nate

Therapeutic horseback riding with the SPIRIT Team has been one of the greatest things to happen to our post-renal transplant, six-year-old son. There are not enough superlatives to adequately describe how positive it has been for him in a life otherwise filled with medical and learning challenges. All of the highly capable instructors’ hearts are in the right place, and they all just really “get it”. The best image I can give you is on the days when we tell Nate he has a horseback riding lesson, he smiles a wide toothless grin and shouts, “Yes!” Thanks to Dada and her Team. We wish them only the very best.


Ryan

Just wanted to let you know how important you are in Ryan’s life and coming to ride and see you is the highlight of his week. Thank you so very much for having high expectations and pushing him to do more. He will only let his favorite people allow him to do that. But I know you will read him to know when not to go too far.

We feel so blessed to have you, Hedy, Kate and the whole team.


Matt Trott

Davorka Suvak’s SPIRIT program has been a tremendous help to my daughter. She sits straighter, stands stronger, and loves every minute of therapeutic riding. Just as important, she has learned to be matter-of-fact about her disabilities and those of others. SPIRIT’s team is demanding, yet gentle; supportive, but with high expectations. This is a program that strengthens a community and nourishes its needy, in a warm, inclusive environment.

SPIRIT Therapeutic Riding Program has provided our developmentally delayed 5 year old son with an amazing opportunity to mature socially, cognitively and physically as he meets the demands of a challenging and rigorous sport. This unique experience allows him to succeed as a rider, learning to command a large-being, following multi-step directions from professional instructors, that use skilled interventions to promote proper development in individuals with disabilities. This one-on-one experience improves his ability to follow directions, strengthens his muscle tone and improves self-esteem. This organization is clearly on the right track to success in assisting individuals with disabilities. The staff are highly trained compassionate people who have dedicated their lives to a most respectable and self less vocation. They demonstrate the knowledge to provide exemplary service to the community by assisting these children in reaching their highest potential.

The dance goes on

I have been riding with SPIRIT at Frying Pan Park for a little more than a month now and it has been wonderful. Getting back to riding after a winter off has been awesome.

Kind, generous and dedicated volunteers have been there every time my body wobbles too much or a foot comes loose of the stirrups.
We have a new ramp.
In a rainy spring, it has been a blessing to ride at FPP where the ring drains quickly and the paths are enchanting to ride.
Of course, Dada is there, too, leading everyone in this beautiful dance: parents, children, horse and volunteers.

Thanks, all

Matt Trott,
Riding with Dada since ’05
Road to who knows where, Matt’s blog