WORTON — The Kent Association of Riding Therapy is making a huge difference in the lives of many local youth.
The students who take part in the program exuded confidence as they rode May 19 in the annual horse show at Worthmore Equestrian Center, exhibiting their skills in equitation and trail riding.
According to the organization’s website, “The mission of Kent Association of Riding Therapy, Inc. (KART) is to help children and adults with disabilities enhance their developmental growth, physically, emotionally and cognitively. KART uses a multi-faceted program that involves therapeutic horseback riding, grooming and caring for the horse and comprehensive classroom instruction.”
At the show, the program’s first-ever drill team performed, wowing the KART volunteers and other audience members with not only their poise, but also remarkable ability to guide the horses without assistance.
The four students on the team — Aaliyah Warner, Thomas Rickloff, Nathaniel Phillips and Tyler Gregg — are all Kent County High School students. Instructor Marco Belperio said they each have been riding anywhere from three to six years.
Before the quartet took to the stage, or barn floor, to be exact, Belperio presented them with their team shirts, printed with the name they had decided on together — KART Angels Practicing Equitation.
During their performance, Belperio gave directions for the riders to turn, walk and guide their horses independently, without a leader or sidewalker.
In a May 24 interview, he said the group practiced only about six times, and rarely all together due to conflicts such as illnesses and school testing.
Belperio said he considered the team’s show to be a “complete success,” especially because of how little time they had to prepare. Next year, he said, the goal is to have the team give a show completely on their own to demonstrate they have full control of the horses.
In the regular competition, classes of three or four riders each — 27 students in all — showed their stuff in the ring, while a group of 25 volunteers assisted as leaders and sidewalkers to assure the students’ safety.
“We have around 50 volunteers at the barn throughout the year, some working one day a week, many working two days,” Leslie Price, president of the KART board, wrote in an email May 25.
“The horse show is the culmination of the work the students have been doing throughout the school year. It is their opportunity to show their families and school teachers and administrators who are not regulars during the season what they have accomplished and they take great pride in their achievements,” Price wrote. “The reward for the volunteers is seeing the joy the students experience as they finish the trail ride and get their ribbons.”
During the awards ceremony following the competition, Belperio, who has been working for the program since 1996, told the students he was extremely proud of the entire group’s performance.
He said this was one of the most difficult years yet when deciding how to place the students. “First could have been fourth, and fourth could have easily been first” in all of the classes that took part, Belperio told the young riders, who ranged in age from second-graders all the way up to 20.
After giving the ribbons to each class, Belperio also gave out a number of special awards to riders who had gone above and beyond.
The horsemanship award went to Gabriel Stone, Dominic Wright was honored as the most improved, Thomas Rickloff was named the most improved in the classroom, Isiah Dodd was named the bravest of the show and best of show went to Avery Clawson.