Our son Thomas began riding with Horse and Buddy over five years ago. Thomas was born in 1997 with Down syndrome and at age four was diagnosed with autism. He is non verbal and has many sensory issues. The one thing in life he absolutely loves is horse back riding! When we show him his helmet he starts to clap and heads for the car. He knows that it is time to go ride. He gets up there and is so comfortable with the horse he has even been known to fall asleep while riding!! He usually though has a huge grin from ear to ear while riding. I cant say enough about what Horse and Buddy has done for Thomas. He gets to do a sport just like other kids!!

Our 13 year old son, Seth, has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cognitive delays. He requires the use of a walker for walking due to his muscle tightness, weakness, and poor balance issues. I vividly recall the first day that we took him to ride. He was absolutely terrified of the horse. Christina, an NC State student and one of the Horse & Buddy volunteers, quickly intervened and talked Seth through his fear. He has been happily riding ever since. The Horse and Buddy program provides Seth with a unique opportunity to strengthen his torso and legs, improve his balance and posture, while providing a wonderful opportunity for confidence building and socialization. His many physical challenges often limit him in these areas. We are very thankful he has the opportunity to ride his horse each week. He especially loves interacting with the many wonderful volunteers who come out weekly to help him and the other riders.

Horse and Buddy does, indeed, improve motor skills, upper and lower body strength, and balance. But the greatest benefit is the pride and sense of accomplishment that each rider feels when in the ring, or on a trail ride astride a beautiful horse. My daughter, and others like her, live in a world that does not acknowledge or appreciate how strong, courageous, and truly remarkable these children are. Horse and Buddy does, and as the parent of a "special needs" child, I am grateful for all this program has offered over the years, and continues to offer.

Our daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 7 months old. By the time we found the tumor it was the size of a baseball and growing fast. Our only options were surgery followed by 1 year of chemotherapy. The surgery successfully removed 80% of the tumor however Sarah suffered a stroke the day after surgery. She lost the use of her entire left side. We were crushed! Our beautiful, new baby went from being "normal" to a very disabled child. Sarah's road to recovery was slow. Since 9 months of age we gave her constant physical, occupational and speech therapy. By age 2 1/2, Sarah was still not walking independently, had poor balance causing her to fall 7-10 times a day, could not sit in a chair independently without falling off, had limited use of her left hand, and barely spoke a word. A friend of ours who is a riding instructor suggested we get Sarah to ride a horse. We thought- No way... how will she be able to sit on a horse when she can't even manage sitting on a chair without falling over?? Our friend assured us that she had seen wonderful advances with handicapped children riding horses. So we tried it. Sarah rose to the occasion. She began riding at 2 1/2 years old with volunteer support on both sides of her. It was hard for her to hold her torso up but she tried. She would even cry when the therapy was difficult - but we kept her going and she began walking within 2 months of beginning the Horse and Buddy program! What a miracle for us! Not only has Sarah strengthened her weak muscles but her confidence has soared. Horse back riding is one of the few activities she can succeed at and feel proud of her achievement. We are so thankful for the Horse & Buddy program in helping our daughter gain her independence and continue to help her physically, mentally, and socially. The Horse & Buddy program has given her so much success in everyday life with things that we "normal" people take for granted. God Bless all the folks who make the Horse & Buddy program possible because with out them, the children's daily lives would be much more difficult.

Since my daughter lost her vision I am always looking for new experiences for her. I was so excited to find your program and that I was able to start her riding lessons right away. Brittany has been riding for almost 3 years. It is amazing how far she has come since the first day she began riding in your program. I believe the 1st day she cried for 55 minutes and walked 1 lap around the arena. She was petrified to trot to the point that she would have a melt down or she would have to go to the bathroom every time you mentioned the word TROT. She has progressed since then. She graduated from a little pony to a very large horse. She actually asks to trot, she can climb up into the saddle by herself, do two point, and she even won a silver medal in the Special Olympics last summer. What an accomplishment!!!! Brittany has had trouble with her balance and low muscle tone in her legs. Since she has been riding I have noticed an improvement in her balance, her confidence has improved to where she is willing to try unfamiliar activities and the strength she has gained in her legs and upper body is truly amazing. Brittany actually gets upset when she has to miss her riding lesson and she doesn't miss very many. I want to thank you and all the volunteers for the special attention and patience you give our children every week. And we are looking forward to many new challenges.

After two years of struggling, our daughter was able to get herself into a sitting position within a month of starting the Horse And Buddy program. Her muscles have been strengthened to where she now sits in a straight position for long periods of time. She loves "her" horse and talks about him all week long until we arrive on Saturday. It is amazing to see the commitment of the young volunteers. Most of the volunteers are teenagers who arrive early on Saturday mornings (!) to assist. They show great love and attention to their buddies and the horses. We believe that Horse and Buddy has made a huge difference in the development of our daughter!

Horse and Buddy 2005