It has been a year since 15-year-old Samantha was given the opportunity to take riding lessons for free under the instruction of Gaits to Greatness volunteers and founder, Dr. Marian Swindell. Just by watching her form and confidence while she rides, you can tell she has come a long way since.
"She is an unbridled cowgirl now. She is fearless on a horse; she has no fear," said Swindell. "So she's doing great,"
Samantha is like most teenage girls, maybe a little more "horse crazy" now than "boy crazy", but she also deals with issues not seen at first glance.
"Samantha was born extremely premature and she also has epilepsy," said Samantha's mother, Kathy Ivey. "She really was a normal little girl until she got into kindergarten and she just couldn't pick up the reading."
Diagnosed as intellectually disabled, Samantha has had to work harder than most children in many areas. But when it comes to her riding, she excels. Her mother believes that horse therapy is the cause for many improvements in Samantha's behavior.
"Samantha has always been on the clumsy side, tending to hurt herself. I really think there has been some improvement in that," Ivey said.
Samantha now displays an immense amount of bravery. When I asked her for an interview, she said she wanted to play reporter instead. Grabbing the microphone, she turned and asked volunteer Pete Manley why he helps give lessons free of charge.
"I do it for kids like you," said Manley. "I like to see the excitement on your face every week when you get off the bus. I like to see you improve on a horse."
Samantha interjects, "I bet the horses like it, too."
"They do! Just as much as you," said Manley.
Samantha turns and says, "O.K. That was pretty good."
The North American Riding for Handicapped Association says there are close to 700 of these kinds of facilities nationwide. They employ about 3,500 instructors. Annually, the organization says some 40,000 children are helped.