The Misty Meadows Mitey Riders celebrate their 21st annual spring festival

Union County Weekly

Crystal O'Gorman/UCW Photo

Hundreds of miles from the site of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, 8-year-old William Kinsey, a Waxhaw resident with Down syndrome, mounted his horse Chief and took his place in the corral on May 2. There were no television cameras, but a crowd cheered him on.

The event was the Misty Meadows Mitey Riders’ 21st annual Spring Festival.

Mitey Riders is a nonprofit that offers free therapeutic horseback riding for children with special needs. Youth struggling with conditions, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, post-brain tumor removal, autism and physical and learning disabilities participate in the program.

William’s mother Natalie Kinsey, who lives in Waxhaw, said her family discovered Mitey Riders through a friend who was already taking lessons there. They decided to attend the annual festival at Misty Meadows Farm in Waxhaw in May 2012. Will was taken aback by all the animals, Kinsey said.

Kinsey said Will started riding there the following season and has been in love with it ever since.

“He was super excited to get on that horse and take part in that program,” she said.

Crystal O'Gorman

This is Will’s third season of therapeutic horseback riding with Misty Meadows Mitey Riders. Natalie said the program has helped him with social, emotional and physical needs.

“He knows Wednesdays are his days to ride and he has the whole routine down,” she said. “He’s learned to follow directions, build on fine motor skills and increase his core muscle strength.”

Will has low muscle tone because of his condition, so learning to stay upright on the horse has helped build his strength, she said. He also was born with torticollis – a congenital condition where the neck is tilted to one side and has weak muscle tone, which has been corrected through these lessons.

The best part, Natalie said, is how much it has built his spirit.

“His confidence has grown so much; he is so proud and looks like he’s been riding his whole life,” she said.

Sixty-three riders took turns showing off their skills as onlookers watched near the corral and stretched out on blankets and picnic tables across the green rolling hills to cheer them on. They performed maneuvers that work to increase core strength, such as sitting up tall in the saddle with “airplane arms” out by their sides and twisting from side to side. They also cycled through obstacle courses that included figure eights, barrel rounds and ring and beanbag tosses. The children smiled with excitement at every turn.

Crystal O'Gorman/UCW Photo

The kids accepted trophies with a sentiment that made its rounds through every group: “I love you, Harry.”

Harry Swimmer and his wife, Marilyn, started this program more than 20 years ago, after saddling up a family friend’s daughter Sarah, who has cerebral palsy. The Swimmers saw the positive effect the horse had on Sarah and within the year they founded Mitey Riders.

Mitey Riders hosts 63 riders a week with the help of 18 therapy horses, five certified instructors and 200 volunteers from September through the beginning of May.

“We are so grateful for the program,” said Kinsey. “It’s something that’s so beneficial for kids and parents and the whole family.”

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