MS-MR-1-Special-Olympics11by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“This is the first time we have really been involved with horses at all,” Holly Klingenberg stated.
Holly is the mom of 9-year-old Teagan Klingenberg, one of the Special Olympic athletes participating in Edge Club Special Olympic training program that has been taking place at Mary Murphy’s Farm in Ballston Spa, NY seasonally, for many years.
Holly, a physical therapist, said years ago she was involved in Hippotherapy, a therapeutic horsemanship program, but had never been “technically” around horses — nor had Teagan until three years ago when Holly heard about the Mary Murphy’s Edge Club Special Olympic training program. In addition to helping Teagan develop balance, strengthening skills and coordination; it has helped to build her self-confidence and social skills.
“She looks forward to it and it has helped her be more outgoing. She had never been around horses before riding here. But, she was never afraid. She was really little and she loved getting on the big horses. She loves it! She wakes up and knows it’s Friday and asks for ‘horseback riding tonight’.”
Teagan competed in the Regional State Games last October. The opening ceremonies took place in Glens Falls and the competition in Saratoga. “That was a great experience!” Holly said. “She did great. She got a second place and a third place — but she doesn’t care about that!”
Teagan rode Shawnee for the event. Shawnee, a Percheron-cross gelding is owned by Sue McBurnie and used for the training program. Although he is young for a Special Olympic mount, he is a “gentle giant” and Teagan’s favorite horse.
Several horses and ponies have been donated to the program and some of the volunteers bring their own horses with them — if they qualify for the program. Some of the horses have been used in the program for years. Edge Club is sanctioned through Special Olympics and several students come from group homes that are part of the Special Olympics Program.
The October 2015 Special Olympic competition is scheduled to take place in Saratoga Springs at Skidmore College. Next year the competition moves to another part of the state. Nearly 100 riders compete in the New York State competitions. “There’s three levels,” Murphy stated. “There’s ‘Walk’ only, there’s ‘Walk /Trot’, and there’s ‘Walk/Trot/Canter’. Within those levels there are further sub-divisions. There is also an Equitation class and a Trail class.”
Many of the classes require someone to lead the horse, although some do not. Murphy says she was a volunteer for a program that worked with blind children when she was in high school in Syracuse. “When I came here I looked for a program like that and there wasn’t one, so I started this.”
Edge Club currently has 20 “athletes”, with six new-comers waiting anxiously to begin the program.
“We have a scheduled time for each person to ride,” Murphy said. “We have people who come all of the way up here from Albany and Rensselaer. I’m full. I had to turn away 17 cases this year. That’s the most I’ve ever had to turn away.”
Murphy says if there were more volunteers, she would be able to accept more handicapped riders. “The volunteers are exhausted by the end of the day.”
The good news is that through a new partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Saratoga County 4-H Program, the classes will be moving to the indoor/outdoor arenas at the 4-H Training Center in Ballston Spa, only two miles from Murphy’s Farm.
“We are looking forward to a great partnership with 4-H and are grateful to Cornell Cooperative Extension for all their support of the Edge Club Special Olympics Equestrian Team!”
Interested in volunteering for the Edge Club Special Olympic Training Program? Contact Mary at 518-844-1344.