Developing Skills - Acting on Hope

(Emillia touches a Horse for the first time)

A few miles south of Battle Creek, Nebraska you’ll find a place where small miracles happen. It’s called S.M.I.L.E. and it lives up to its name. S.M.I.L.E. provides therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with special needs. The nonprofit gives lessons to about 135 riders each week. This keeps Patty Prauner, founder and director of the program, and her volunteers and staff very busy.

When NCF learned that the Norfolk Area Community Foundation Fund had made a grant to S.M.I.L.E. we were curious and decided to visit early in June. We met an 18-year-old girl named Emilia Daberkow. It was her first day at S.M.I.L.E.

Emilia was adopted at age 6 from Romania where she had been in several orphanages and foster homes. She was sensory deprived, and according to her mother Jane, has many developmental challenges. She can become very frightened of familiar things and often avoids touching. It appeared so – initially.

Moments into her lesson Emilia was “dressing” her horse, carefully folding its ears down to allow the bridle to slip into place. Patty guided her hands as she helped place the saddle and tightened the cinch. Then up in the saddle and away she went with Patty taking the lead.

“I like this, Mom! This is fun!” she cried out.                                           Emillia on her first ride with Patty Prauner program director

Mom slowly shook her head in disbelief.

Patty has seen phenomenal results since helping her first rider in 1992. “A riding lesson teaches children all sorts of physical and mental skills, and it doesn’t feel like work or an abstract lesson. We don’t use the word therapy,” Patty said. “I’m just passing along what I know and love. God does the rest.

”Patty appreciates any volunteer and financial support she can get. The nonprofit does not make enough to cover the $60 in costs for each lesson. Patty charges less than half of that…and sometimes nothing at all. Riders come from 38 surrounding towns, some driving as much as an hour for their weekly lesson.

At the end of the summer riding season we checked in with Patty, Emilia and her mother, Jane.

“Emilia’s riding all by herself now. She’s a natural,” said Patty.

“Monday is a day we all look forward to and Emilia now takes more charge of her own schedule,” Jane said. “Riding was something Emilia could do totally on her own. She can’t compete athletically; this gives her an outlet for her individuality. It enabled her to take directions from someone besides me – someone I could totally trust. It was as therapeutic for me as for Emilia.

“Patty wasn’t trying to ‘fix’ Emilia. Her approach isn’t ‘Do you think you can do this?’ She just shows them and says, ‘This is how you do this.’ That’s very empowering,” Jane said.

Emilia agreed. “I got to go out of the house and use a halter and ride. At first I was scared. I thought, what was going on? Then I just started riding. I was really sad to say goodbye to Patty.

”“But you’ll go back next year,” reminds Jane.


Posted on: Thursday, December 4, 2014
Last modified on: Thursday, December 4, 2014

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