Saddle strength

Thursday, April 19, 2007
Betsy Rigdon, right, helps 12-year-old Logan Wibbenmeyer with her posture during a riding lesson at Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship near Appleton, Mo., on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. Wibbenmeyer, who does not speak, signs for the horses to make certain movements. (Kit Doyle)

Betsy Rigdon led a horse carrying Logan Wibbenmeyer around the Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship arena Tuesday evening.

From outside the arena gates, Logan's mother, Lori, watched her 12-year-old daughter on the horse.

Four-year-old Ellie McCadams listens to clues for an object hunting game from Grayson Erlbacher, right, during a riding session at Mississippi Valley Therapeutic Horsemanship near Appleton, Mo., on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. Sidewalker Nancy Dunn, rear, helps McCadams maintain her balance. (Kit Doyle)

"This is something she doesn't get to do a lot, and she really likes it," Lori said.

Logan's riding lesson serves two purposes -- enjoyment and therapy. While in the uterus, Logan had a stroke that left her vocal cords paralyzed. She can't swallow or eat, and since the age of 5 weeks, she's had a feeding tube. Logan's muscles and motor skills are also underdeveloped.

For the past two years, Lori has brought Logan to the not-for-profit MVTH, which has an indoor arena and barn near Oak Ridge. The horse therapy operation is for children and adults with a variety of disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, autism, brain injuries, stroke and Down syndrome. MVTH is the only type of horse therapy within a 90-minute drive of Cape Girardeau.

"I'm really hoping this will strengthen her hips and legs," Lori Wibbenmeyer said of the horse therapy. "Her muscles get so stiff from sitting all the time. This helps get the movement going in her legs."

Lori and Logan Wibbenmeyer drive from Perryville, Mo., to attend weekly riding lessons at the arena. Like the Wibbenmeyers, Lisa McArthur brings her 15-year-old son, Brandon, to the MVTH arena each week for therapy.

"It's really the only therapy he gets," McArthur said.

Brandon was diagnosed with ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-TCP, at the age of 7. A-TCP is a rare degenerative disease that causes progressive loss of motor control, cancer and problems with his immune system. He is one of 500 children in the world known to have been born with it.

"His condition always gets worse, so it's important to keep him limbered up and strong," McArthur said. "I don't tell him it's therapy, I just tell him it's a way to help him stay strong."

There are 37 riders, from young children to adults, who attend weekly lessons at MVTH, an accredited program of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Rigdon has been a MVTH instructor for about four years.

"It's remarkable how their bodies react to the quadrapedic motion of the horse," Rigdon said. "When you work with these kids over and over again, within six weeks you can see changes in their posture and attitude -- it's amazing."

Because MVTH is a not-for-profit organization, it relies heavily on the work of volunteers and donations from other community organizations. The program charges $25 per lesson, but does not turn anyone away for inability to pay.

MVTH is holding a fund-raising barn dinner and dance from 5:30 to 10 p.m. April 28 at Dr. Michael Jessup's home.

"I worry constantly that we are going to fall through the cracks, but so far we haven't," Rigdon said.

The MVTH program began operating near Oak Ridge in February 2001. For more information, call 275-3040.

335-6611, extension 246

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