Article by ALANA CONWAY – Freshman at Marquette High School
Marita Wassman has always had a passion for horses. “An addiction,” she calls it.
After being inspired by a Texas center, Wassman had the idea to create a charity inspired by Christian values. She wanted to provide people with any type of disability the opportunity to participate in equine-assisted activities and therapies. Hence, Ride On St. Louis was born. The nonprofit organization has been changing the lives of children and families since 1998.
Ride On St. Louis provides seven different services for all people involved in the facility: summer camp, unmounted activities, sports riding, adaptive riding, barn buddies, equine services for heroes and physical and occupational therapy.
A young girl named Stephanie began treatment with the nonprofit at age 13. She was diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome; a disorder only 500 people in the world have been diagnosed with. Wanting to be as active as her siblings, she aspired to do an activity that made her feel equal. Her doctor recommended hippotherapy.
With very little muscle tone, Stephanie needed to be supported while atop the horse. She could stay upright for five minutes or less before collapsing on the horse. Little by little, day after day, she grew stronger and she eventually gained enough strength to hold herself up for 45 minutes at a time. This treatment has reduced Stephanie’s hospital visits.
“It was phenomenal,” Wassman said. The horse’s movement specifically helps to strengthen the muscles of children and adults, but it also helps promote good communication skills. Some children begin to speak within three to five visits.
Sue Stinehart, a volunteer of 16 years, recalled a time when a child with severe autism spoke his first words at the “whoa” sign, the phrase that signals for the horse to slow down to a halt. “When we asked him if he could say ‘whoa’ again, he said it right back, clear as day,” Stinehart said. Stinehart is one of approximately 50 volunteers, and the nonprofit is always looking for more.
Ride On St. Louis will be moving from their previous location in Kimmswick, Missouri to a new site in the 255/55 corridor. The stable where Ride On St. Louis previously resided has flooded five times since 2013. Relocating the center will avoid recurrent, costly damages to the facility, grounds and programs, and ensure continuous, uninterrupted service for those in need. The organization plans on using proceeds from the Old Newsboys grant to help purchase new program equipment.