Making a Difference: Disabled horse helps disabled people

8:25 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
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Hillsborough County, Florida - At the Bakas Equestrian Center, special horses take care of people with special needs, and there's no doubt that Chester is a favorite.

"A lot of our riders ask for him specifically," says Beth Harre-Orr, director of the therapeutic riding program run by Hillsborough County.

Jonathan Hughes has bonded with Chester. Hughes has cerebral palsy, and helpers who walk on either side of the horse keep him in the saddle. Still, the sessions with Chester help strengthen Hughes' mind and body.

"He's very patient," Hughes' aide, Ernest Bennerman, says of Chester. "Huh, John? Is he very patient?"

"Yeah," replies Hughes, who has difficulty speaking.

"He's a great horse, a great horse," Bennerman goes on to say.

People who hang around horses say you can tell that some have that "extra special something." Chester may be so good with the disabled because he knows a little bit about it himself -- his right eye is missing.

Three years ago, Chester suffered a serious eye injury and, without money for surgery, program officials made the decision to have him humanely euthanized. But that's when Bakas client Lorraine McCracken road to the rescue. She found a donor willing to contribute thousands of dollars to save Chester.

"Angels were watching!" says Harre-Orr of the effort.

"He just behaves. He'll do whatever you ask him to do," says McCracken while riding Chester. She leans over and gives him a little pat on the neck. "I think he is so thankful he's alive. I think he knows it down deep inside."

Since his last-minute rescue, Chester has spent countless hours working his own kind of magic. "If he can do it, I can do it," says McCracken, a former nurse who suffers from chronic back pain. "He's an inspiration."

Now that's horse power.

Chester is now being considered for National Horse of the Year by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). 

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