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10/31/2012 2:16:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Submitted by Melodee Hanson
Martin Garibay rides a horse on a trail ride during his time spent at the Spurs and Spokes 4-H Club. Many children with disabilities ride during the summer season with the 4-H Club. Melodee Hanson, a board member for Spurs and Spokes said the trail ride is one of the favorite things for the riders to do.
Helping children with disabilities rehab with horses
Kacie Thrift
Staff Writer

Melodee Hanson has been with Spurs and Spokes, a 4-H therapeutic horseback riding program in Wenatchee, since it started 25 years ago.

Hanson, Cashmere resident since 1974, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Spurs and Spokes along side of her fellow volunteers and riders. Over 200 youth from Douglas and Chelan counties have benefited from the therapeutic horseback riding during the time of operation.

The program was put together in the late 1980's. At the time Hanson was working with a 4-H club who had received a small grant to try and have a therapeutic program for people with disabilities. When the program didn't work out, Hanson decided to try with a few friends to get a program running so they didn't have to return the grant money.

In 1988 the program took off starting with nine riders in a small arena with no tack room. Hanson said the program is still running at the same location but there is a much larger arena that was given to the program from the Wenatchee Lions Club. A tack room has also been built and the program now takes 36 riders per season.

The riding season for Spurs and Spokes starts in mid May and ends in late August.

Hanson said the program has children with all different types of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, blindness, and others.

"We are a therapeutic and recreational riding program for kids with disabilities. Basically they come and ride and for a lot of them things happen on horses that don't happen otherwise for children that are disabled," Hanson said.

Hanson used to work in therapeutic horseback riding when she was an employee for the Washington State University extension in Wenatchee. After retiring therapeutic horseback riding was the one part of her job she continued to do but instead of through WSU she does it through the non-profit she helped start.

The program costs around $10,000 a year to run so the board of seven works together to apply for grants and fundraise money. Hanson said the program often receives grants from local area service clubs. Ten years ago someone was driving through Wenatchee and when they heard about Spurs and Spokes they contacted a service club from out of town who gave the program $3,000 to be used for scholarships for the riders.

When the program first started it was free but now there is a $50 per season charge.

Hanson said she believes the program is very important because the therapy really helps children with disabilities.

"I have seen such miracles on horseback. We have had people say their first words out there," Hanson said. "The first year we rode, a little girl couldn't sit up straight in her wheelchair without straps. In a few weeks or less she was able to hold herself upright on the horse."

Hanson said a lot of the children's doctors with the Children's Hospital in Seattle have asked parents what they are doing differently with their child and it was the horseback riding. Therapeutic horseback riding mixed with additional therapy has helped many children, according to Hanson.

Cashmere resident Danielle Cloakey, who suffered from childhood cancer, used to be a rider at Spurs and Spokes 4-H. She said she loved the program and has plenty of great memories from riding.

"My most favorite lesson was always the last one where we'd go on trail rides. And nothing brought a smile to my face like trotting did. My first ever lesson with them my horse actually got spooked and reared up, causing me to fly backwards and unfortunately stepping on one of my side walkers' feet. My other side walker caught me before I met the ground though," Cloakey said. "I remember being so disappointed. I wanted to get right back on the horse but they would not let me. The next week I went back ready to ride."

Cloakey said she was at peace when she would ride. She said it was one of the times during her childhood when the world made sense to her.

Up to 120 community members in Chelan and Douglas volunteer their time annually to this program. Hanson said the program helps more than the youth riders; it can also be a great experience for the volunteers.

"All of the volunteers love to do it or they wouldn't do it. Some people come with us and aren't quite sure about working with kids with disabilities but they find out the kids are just kids. They have different levels of ability but they have their own personalities and have different ways to express their thanks on the horse. Some really neat things happen to those volunteers," Hanson said.

Even with the support of all the volunteers the program still costs money. The biggest fundraiser of the year for Spurs and Spokes is coming this weekend on Nov. 3. The Wenatchee Apollo Club, Wenatchee Appleaires, Columbia Chorale, Leavenworth Village Voices, Barbed Wire Quartet and the Confluence Vocal Octet, plus Cowboy Poet, Fred Duzan, will combine their talents in a benefit this Saturday for Spurs and Spokes 4-H.

The program will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Eastmont Junior High, 905 8th NE St., in East Wenatchee. Disabled access is available from both the front and back parking lots.

Hanson said past and present riders are invited to attend the concert at no charge. All other tickets are $12.00. Tickets will be available at the door, or they may be purchased ahead of time at Hayes Cleaners, Owl Soda Fountain and Ag Supply, and Doane's Pharmacy.

The money raised will go toward the costs for running the Spurs and Spokes 4-H program.

"It's a labor of love, it really is," Hanson said about the program.

If anyone would like to be involved in Spurs and Spokes as a volunteer or as a rider you may call Melodee Hanson at 782-3719.

Kacie Thrift may be reached at 782-781 or

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