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Show features Special Olympics athletes from Armstrong, Indiana

| Monday, April 7, 2014, 12:36 p.m.

A new Special Olympics equestrian program will be on display this month at a show in Indiana County.

The Special Olympics of Armstrong and Indiana Counties has eight people with intellectual disabilities in the program it launched last month. Five others are waiting to join, said equestrian coach Kristen Kalanavich.

“We focus on forming a partnership between the rider and horse, since each athlete works with the same horse every time,” Kalanavich said. “They don't realize it, but during their time with the horses, the athletes are really working on creating life and independence skills in a very therapeutic setting.”

Athletes in the program work with coaches and volunteers to ride, groom and care for horses.

The equestrian team will show off its skills from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 27 at Winterfield Farms, 495 Winterfield Road, Indiana.

The equestrian program has about 20 volunteers who help give lessons, work with the athletes and plan fundraisers to cover expenses for its second season in October.

It costs about $10,000 to run the program, and, like other Special Olympics events, athletes participate for free. Unlike other Special Olympics programs, the equestrian team will only be taking part in local events.

“It's just because of a lack of funding,” Kalanavich said. “We'd have to do more lessons and pay to haul our horses and tack and cover housing, which would cost at least $2,000, which we don't have.”

The local Special Olympics organization gets the majority of its funding through fundraisers and grants from agencies like the United Way. Kalanavich said she is confident the equestrian program will raise enough money to one day move those on the waiting list onto the team and start participating in events outside the region.

“I hope we can make this program as big as possible, since the area doesn't have any other therapeutic riding programs,” Kalanavich said.

She added that one only has to look at the athletes with the animals to appreciate the value of the riding program.

“There's no fear or timid feelings, and all of them see their horses as a best friend,” Kalanavich said. “It's easy to tell by the way they talk to the horses that they're really enjoying it.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303.

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