Horse-sized Impact

Volunteers and horses changing lives

 

Story by Chantelle Henry
Photos by Tom Hawley

Walking can be somewhat of a challenge for Kendra Kruzel, but riding a horse seems like second nature and almost as if the horse gives her wings to fly. She’s not the only one who gets her wings when she mounts a horse at Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding, Inc.

“They each have their thing,” said Angie Kruzel of Luna Pier. “Horses for one and dance for the other, they both have their individual interests that bring them joy.” As their mother, she sees the role of a hobby in the life of her daughters as catalytic in pushing them to their capacity and giving them opportunity to be their best. Stepping Stones has been so much more for her oldest daughter Kendra.

Kendra was born with Spina Bifida and portions of her brain missing, but challenges don’t seem to faze Kendra too much these days. Some 15 surgeries later, with braces in hand, Kendra steps onto the platform to mount her horse and compete in the annual Stepping Stones horse competition at the 2016 Monroe County Fair.

It is her third year participating and this is part of what makes life pure joy for Kendra.

Stepping Stones of Monroe is a non-profit organization and a 4-H club comprised of volunteers who, “Shall seek to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families through equine activities and other events and projects designed to facilitate their overall physical, emotional, and social development.” Their main focus is helping children and adults who have disabilities. They have a large age range of people who they serve, from a 60-year-old man recovering from a stroke, a woman in her 40’s suffering from multiple sclerosis and a young child who has very little core strength.

At Stepping Stones, volunteers help riders mount the horse and then they walk beside the riders as they learn to lead the horse around the stable to perform various tricks and positions. The rider gains strength and often gains a lot of confidence through the skill building that occurs from riding the horse. Most riders cannot compete in regular sports, so this is a benefit to both the rider and their family to be able to participate.

Lauryn Knaggs, 14, has a rare syndrome that causes her to have seizures and is now a volunteer with the Stepping Stones program. She has been participating in the program as a rider since she was 3 years old. A few years ago she was given her own horse to take care of, as well as the funding to keep the horse at a stable. Now, she not only volunteers with the Stepping Stone program, she also participates in 4-H with her horse at the Monroe County Fair. Her horse, Roo, is her protector. She has had a stroke while riding him and her horse could sense it coming on and protected her from injury. Her condition requires a large amount of physical and occupational therapy, so this therapy became an affordable option, along with now riding her own horse and caring for it. Natalie Knaggs, her mother, is a volunteer and the vice president of the organization’s board.

Kenneth Pelland has been in the Stepping Stones program since he was 3 years old as well. His mother, Nancy Pelland, has seen a huge improvement in his balance from when he first started the program. When he started he was not yet walking. He used a walker and was afraid of dogs, so horses were a big leap for him. He likes to ride the same horse and knows very well what is expected of him. Kenneth’s family also volunteers with the program.

Stepping Stones recently moved from Hurd Rd., due to the owner of the stable retiring, to Will Ann Stable at 3614 Mentel Rd. in Monroe. The new stable has three pastures and a larger arena, but there is a lot of work to do to make it handicap accessible and funding is needed as well. They also have excavating to do and are in need of a cement driveway for those who arrive in wheelchairs.

Stepping Stones has three large fundraisers each year. An auction at the Monroe County 4-H Activity Center at the Fairgrounds on Nov. 25, a bowling night from 6 to 9 p.m. March 18 at Nortel Lanes and a steak dinner on May 19th in South Rockwood.

For more information about Stepping Stones and the events that are scheduled, visit their website at www.steppingstones.com. or if you are interested in volunteering or making a donation, contact Debbie Seib, the volunteer coordinator at Stepping Stones or the executive director, Sue Tucker at 734-652-9345. A volunteer training session is required for all walkers and leaders. Stepping Stones is funded through donations and grants. You do not have to be a horse enthusiast to help. They will teach you everything you need to know.

–Monroe News photo by TOM HAWLEY
Ashley Hays, 17, of Toledo competes in the Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding competition at the Monroe County Fair last year with the help of volunteers Jeremy Plourde, MacKynze and Rebecca Bradburg.

–Monroe News photo by TOM HAWLEY
Jack Rohrback, 14, of Belleville was proud of his ribbons showing them to his family; sister Samantha, parents Jane and Ray Rohrback in the Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding competition at the Monroe County Fair last year.

–Monroe News photo by TOM HAWLEY
Kendra Kruzel, 17, of Luna Pier walks Whisper with volunteer Sara Kalenkiewicz, 18, of Monroe in the Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding competition at the Monroe County Fair last year.

–Monroe News photo by TOM HAWLEY
Mary Clark, 9, of Ypsilant looks on and waits her turn to ride at the
Monroe County Fair 2016 Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding competition.