Accessible saddle gives new opportunity to those with disabilities

Tim Donat is one of three people who regularly uses the new saddle purchased by the Saddle Up Club at Joy Ranch. Donat is 37 years old and has cerebral palsy and can now enjoy horseback riding with the purchase of the new saddle. Dakota Media Group photo by Katie Berndt

The addition of a new adaptive saddle to the Saddle Up Club at Joy Ranch is providing a unique opportunity to people with disabilities.

The saddle, handmade by Independent Strides in Grand Haven, Michigan, features a backrest and armrests to enable people with severe physical disabilities to safely and independently ride a horse.

The Saddle Up Club allows children and adults with disabilities to gain riding experience and compete at the Special Olympics State Equestrian show. According to Karen Breitag, volunteer coordinator of the program, the new saddle offers some participants the unique and unlikely experience of riding on their own.

Breitag said the handmade saddle, purchased in January, was needed when the club did not have enough volunteers to help participants with severe disabilities stay seated on a horse. The saddle also helps the riders to feel more confident and secure.

“They’re showing more core strength, [and] they’re able to use their upper body movement because they’re not focused so much on just trying to stay in the saddle,”Breitag said.

Tim Donat is one of three riders who regularly use the saddle. Donat, 37, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. While watching Donat enjoy an evening ride, his mother, Gloria, remarked that the saddle is “something everyone should have.”

While Donat is non-verbal, those close to him said he “coos” happily and is excited when he is horseback.

The purchase of the saddle was made possible by several generous donors, Breitag said. The club was given enough money to buy the $6,000 saddle and fund half the cost of another.

The Saddle Up Club also received a donation from The Upside of Downs, an organization that provides support to individuals with Down Syndrome and their families. The group donated $1,000 for the club to purchase another horse it needed for the Special Olympics State Equestrian show.

According to Breitag, the new saddle has opened up the club’s ability to provide participants with an extraordinary, life changing experience.

“I have seen a change in everything about the riders that are using this saddle,” she said. “We had a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy that they didn’t think would be able to ride because he has absolutely no core strength, and we got him adjusted into the saddle and he was all smiles.”

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