Horse rides help special needs children

Valdemar Ortiz, 10, left, of Portales, pets Peanut at the Mini-blessings Horse Show. Volunteer Gwen Regnier, 15, prepares to lead Peanut on their ride Thursday at the Curry County Fair. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Fairgrounds provided the stage to showcase some of Clovis’ most unlikely horseback riders Thursday.

Mini-blessings, a local group organized to help handicapped or special needs children, conducted a ride for all the children in the program learning to overcome their disabilities.

Lexie Myers, 39, heads up the group because she saw what a positive influence she could have on the handicapped and abused children in the Clovis community using miniature and regular-sized horses.

“We actually started the wheels turning a year ago May, and started riding in October,” said Myers, a native of Fort Sumner. “It took us that long to get the basics down to start it.”

The North American Riding for Handicap Association (NARHA) certifies like groups all over America and Canada. Mini-blessings is considered a center under the NARHA certification and Myers is a certified instructor.

Being the director of Mini-blessings has made Myers more appreciative of her good fortune to have two healthy children. She said it is hard to imagine what it’s like to deal with some of the afflictions she’s seen.

“(The parents) don’t get off for Christmas day,” Myers said. “Some of these parents will never here ‘Momma I love you.’”
Unlike many children who are unappreciative of all that is done for them, the children participating in Mini-blessings take everything they are given with gratitude, Myers said.

Sarah Walker is a participant in the program. She’s been diagnosed with a rare disease called Angelman Syndrome.

According to www.angelman.org, Angelman Syndrome is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism. Some of the symptoms are developmental delay, loss of speech function, and poor motor skills.

“Sarah has some verbalization but most (diagnosed with Angleman’s) do not,” said Lisa Walker, Sarah’s mother. “The thing with the syndrome is that they can understand a lot more than they can put out.”

Lisa Walker, 37, said her daughter has benefited to have a place to meet with other special needs children and join a community.

“At school she is ‘inclusion,’ which means she is in with a regular class,” the Dora native said. “One of the benefits is that Sarah can get along with the other kids with special needs.”

Sarah, who joined the program in April, rides an old ranch horse named Freddy.

“Out on the ranch Sarah can go anywhere … she wants,” Walker said. “Her balance is a lot better since she started riding,” Walker said.

Mini-blessings also works closely with victims of abuse.
Freda Batora of Clovis brought her son, Jordan Donehew, 10, to Mini-blessings to start his recovery after many years of abuse.

“They’ve been working on his self esteem, and to build his confidence up,” Batora said. “He’s been sexually abused since he was 2 … and we just got it stopped.”

Jordan has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. Batora believes her son is showing solid signs of improvement over the few months he has been part of Mini-blessings.

“He’s been real withdrawn, but now he’s really come out of his shell,” Batora said. “(Wednesday) was his first day at school … Usually he fights with the other kids but (Wednesday) he did real well.”

Myers said the children who come in with cerebral palsy show dramatic improvement when riding the horses. The combination of the heat from the horse and natural side-to-side movement of the horse’s stride help simulate a natural human step and loosens up the tight muscles in the legs of the children with cerebral palsy, Myers said.

Mary Anne Ortiz, 49, of Portales, enrolled her 10-year-old grandson, Valdemar Ortiz, in the program six months ago. Valdemar is afflicted with cerebral palsy but continues to show dramatic improvements while on the horses.

“His legs are usually very stiff, and when he rides the horses he gets very limber,” Ortiz said. “His attitude is so much better; he really likes being around the horses.”