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Horse program a haven for special-needs kids

Volunteers from Riding for Dreams help a rider prepare for his therapeutic horseback ride. Photos special to The Forum

Sitting still isn't easy for Cade Brademeyer.

"We call him our little shark. He's in constant motion," said Missy Brademeyer, mother of Cade, an 11-year-old with apraxia and autism.

The shark finally relaxes when he mounts a horse. That's when Cade's attention focuses on the animal and all the typical distractions fade to the background.

"We almost think he could fall asleep riding a horse," his mother said.

The founders of Riding for Dreams, a therapeutic horseback riding nonprofit in Milnor, N.D., hope more kids with special needs get to have their own sort of sleeping-shark moments.

Taking its cues from Riding on Angels' Wings, a nonprofit based in Felton, Minn., the program had its first sessions last year and is looking to expand wider in 2011 - from five children to as many as 15 this year.

Therapeutic horse riding is just what it sounds like: therapy that uses a horse, including physical, speech and occupational therapy, said Laurie Bischof, Riding for Dreams' president.

"It just makes the therapy a whole lot more fun," Bischof said.

A handler leads a horse, typically just at a walking pace, while two others are at the sides of the animal. Bischof said volunteers are certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Brademeyer, a director of the nonprofit, said she got involved in the group because of the lack of therapy resources in rural areas, and the benefit it brought Cade was obvious. Mostly non-verbal, Cade has often been doing the sign for a horse - peace signs at the sides of the head like ears - in anticipation of riding Freckles again, she said.

Riding also serves as a confidence-building social activity, Bischof said.

"This is an accomplishment for them. Not everybody can ride a horse," she said. "It's a very positive thing all around."

It's even positive for the adults helping out, she said. "The smile that comes across their face affects everybody involved."

Stacy Erdmann, one of the group's three founders, said the initial class of five children last year included ages ranging from 16 years old down to a 2½-year-old who rode a small pony.

"After that first class, he went home and pretended he was riding horse all day," Erdmann said of the group's youngest rider.

The program sessions, weekly hourlong rides for six weeks, are set to start for the spring on April 12, if they aren't flood-delayed.

A six-week session costs $150, but need-based scholarships are available.

The group is also seeking more help, Erdmann said.

"Everything we do revolves around volunteers," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535