BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
Working as a therapeutic riding volunteer while living in Texas, Patty Hudgins, realized this was a program she would love to see in her hometown of Caledonia. At that time, there was not a therapeutic riding program in Lowndes County. Hudgins said her dream came true when she moved back to Lowndes County to teach art at Caledonia Elementary School.
Hudgins said she loved horses and believed that her background as a former special education teacher, along with her experience with therapeutic riding, would be a perfect combination. It took her seven years to get it up and running, but the result is RIDES 4 Him.
Located in Caledonia, Hudgins opened her business in June 2002. RIDES. (Riding to Improve Development, Esteem, Strength, Spirit) is a 501 c, tax-exempt, non-profit charity that is registered with the state of Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. It is a member center of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association which provides therapy for handicapped adults and children through horseback riding. Hudgins said her riders have included those with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy and scoliosis, as well as those who have emotional and cognitive disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Asperger’s Syndrome, and autism.
RIDES depends soley on volunteers who are trained extensively on therapeutic riding assistance. Volunteers come from all walks of life: high school students (many are former students of Patty’s), local executives, teachers, and stay-at-home moms, to name a few. Warren Edwards of Columbus has worked as a volunteer with RIDES for more than two years, and he works for Cadence Bank in Columbus as a customer service representative.
“I love doing this,” Edwards said. “I enjoy seeing the kids look so happy when they ride.”
Carrying the spirit of helping the disabled, Hudgins also has several horses who are disabled, as well. Some are blind, like Spicket and Star and some suffer from age-related issues, including arthritis.
“It doesn’t seem to stop them much,” Hudgin said. “They might be a little slower, but they are always so gentle and patient when they have their riders on them.”
Hudgins said she uses special equipment such as saddle-frames and padding to help make it possible for the disabled riders to stay on the animals and in an upright position, which Hudgins said helps the riders with their balance and strength. One horse in particular, Traveller, has a saddle that is wheelchair-adaptable.
Angela Gardner of Columbus, loves the program. Her son, Julian, has been riding for a couple of years. Julian, who has cerebral palsy, rides Buddy, a small pony.
“If we could do it more, we would,” Gardner said. “Julian loves it because it’s his, alone. Lola, his twin, could ride if she wants to, but she’s happy letting him do his thing. It’s helped stretch his legs, and his balance has improved.”
Hudgins said RIDES is possible thanks to donations of time and contributions, fundraisers, federal grants, and grants from corporations like Wal-Mart and Weyerhauser.
“I am so blessed to be doing this,” Hudgins said. “We love helping our riders become stronger. God has truly been good to us, and it’s through His grace we have achieved so much.”
To volunteer your time, or make a donation, contact R.I.D.E.S 4 Him, (662) 356-4458 or www.RIDES4HIM.org0