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Donegal riding center debuts paved parking lot

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
The recently paved parking lot at Nickers 'n Neighs Therapeautic Riding Center in Donegal was made possible by a $10,000 grant issued by the R.K. Mellon Family Foundation.

Nickers ‘N Neighs Therapeutic Riding Center in Donegal recently increased accessibility for disabled visitors via the paving of a portion of the center's parking lot.

“Having an accessible parking area leads to so many possibilities,” said Lin Podolinsky, the center's executive director.

The parking lot was made possible by a $10,000 grant received by the R.K. Mellon Family Foundation.

With the increased accessibility, Podolinsky said, center officials can teach additional students with physical disabilities that they were previously unable to serve.

The foundation focuses primarily on Western Pennsylvania charitable activities, with emphasis on education, healthcare, social and human services and conservation.

Anne Petrof of Ligonier brings her son, Max, to the facility to ride.

“It makes it much easier for Max to use his walker to get into the building. We really appreciate the convenience,” Petrof said.

The increased accessibility meets standards upheld by the Americans with Disabilities Act to serve current and future students beset with special challenges. In addition, the enhanced parking lot enables the center to pursue accreditation through Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, a federally-registered nonprofit, and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association to promote equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.

The center's main program serves children and adults by teaching horsemanship and riding skills.

Officials there served 138 individuals from multiple counties last year with individualized lessons. Therapeutic riding includes therapy, education, sport and recreation. The rhythmic, three-dimensional and symmetrical movement of the horse helps riders with physical challenges gain flexibility, balance and muscle strength. Individuals with emotional or behavioral challenges can build confidence, patience and self-esteem with the unique nature of the human-to-equine relationship, according to the organization's website.

“Accessibility can be a huge barrier for individuals with disabilities,” said Katie Smith, 27, of Stahlstown, a student at the center who suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury in a 2007 car accident.

“The mission at Nickers ‘N Neighs makes activity accessible, but with the new parking lot, the building itself is also accessible to everyone,” she said.

The center's mission is to improve the lives of children and adults with special challenges through a therapeutic partnership with horses. For additional information about the facility, call 724-593-8121.

Kelly Vernon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-547-5722 or