In the 1950s in an old farmhouse in Colorado, two sisters could always be seen sprawled on a green bedspread playing with toy horses. They were just old enough to begin a long time relationship with animals. The younger sister, Kerrill (Kerry) was born with SMA (a form of muscular dystrophy) which limited her strength and balance as well as compromised her overall health. Kerry, and her older sister, Susanne (Sue) loved horses. They would use their allowance to buy toy horses; using them to go on wild adventures where Kerry could run, ride, and jump as high as anyone else, even if only in their imaginations. As they grew so did their appreciation for these large and beautiful animals. They read horse books, they watched horse movies (Roy Rogers and My Friend Flicka). They were destined to be involved with horses for the rest of their lives.
They received their first pony to train during one of Kerrill’s many hospital stays. One of her doctors bought a raffle ticket from her and said ‘if I win, she has to take the pony’. He won. Kilo was the unbroken and often unruly pony who sealed their future. Kerry and Sue spent many hours with their new equine. They were pre-teens now and they read books and magazines and soaked up as much information as they could. Kilo became a decent pony as a result. Kerry was often sitting in her wheelchair in the pasture with Sue riding Kilo and taking instruction from Kerry, ‘Sit up straight’, Use your left leg on him’. But there seemed to be no way to keep Kerry on the pony so she could ride.
Soon, Sue joined a local horse 4H club with Kerry, her closest friend, instructor and partner. Together they won many prizes with Sue riding and Kerry supporting her and their skills grew.
By the time they were in their early teens they had moved to California. Their destiny was still the same but their ideas were more realistic. They waited until their mom left for work, borrowed a neighbor’s old horse and secretly tied a kitchen chair to the saddle. Then Sue carefully lifted Kerry up and tied her to that saddle with a dish towel!! This was their first saddle adaptation and it worked. Kerry finally got to ride a real horse. This initial success fueled their fire more, and over the course of 30 years altered the lives of thousands of people.
As adults they continued their saddle modifications. They both had careers training service dogs and Kerry had been successful in starting 2 nonprofit organizations in California after college, but there continued to be a pull toward their early dreams of working with horses and a burning desire to make equestrian experiences accessible to all. The sisters decided that they would start a nonprofit organization in Oregon where other people with disabilities could enjoy riding horses outdoors and experience wild and scenic areas. So in 1988, HORSES, Ltd was born. They used their service dog training to train horses for this specific job and during the next 10 years, they organized trips for people with special needs and their families. HORSES, Ltd and their participants with physical and/or emotional needs enjoyed packing into wilderness areas, riding on the beach or in the mountains of Oregon. HORSES, Ltd worked with local organizations, the US Forest Service, Oregon State Parks Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create ‘all access’ horse camps around the state.
As disability awareness increased on a national level with greater focus on accessibility, HORSES, ltd. changed as well. Sue and Kerry and their board of directors voted to change the name of the organization to the Adaptive Riding Institute (ARI). In addition to the scenic trail activities, Sue and Kerry taught individuals from other states and countries about adaptive equipment and training disability friendly horses. ARI served adults and children with a broad range of special needs including those with physical, behavioral and emotional needs.
In 2000 Kerry adopted a wild mustang from BLM which Sue and other friends helped her train for both riding and carriage driving. With their custom made carriage and a very special horse, the sisters continued to share equine adventures whenever possible.
In 2015, a group of honest and dedicated individuals persuaded Kerry and Sue to help start a new nonprofit organization. One which holds true to the original values of the sisters and HORSES, ltd. This was the beginning of HART, Horses Adaptive Riding and Therapy. The Adaptive Riding Institute no longer exists, but the vision of the two sisters playing on the green bedspread lives on in HART. Here you will find dedicated, transparent individuals who provide many types of adaptive riding and therapy and where the use of custom equipment makes horseback riding available to many fragile people. At HART everyone’s abilities are celebrated as they ‘harness the magic of horses to change lives’.
Kerry serves on the Board of Directors and Sue is the Executive Director at HART, where they both make sure that the trail ahead is wide open to people with unique needs who want to join the ride.