Contra Costa Times

Sunbeams: Xenophon provides some therapy for the heart
By Harriett Ainsworth Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/10/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

THAT SATURDAY WAS THE HOTTEST DAY we’ve endured so far this year, and on the hottest part of that day, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., Xenophon celebrated with an open house, showing heart-warming demonstrations of progress by students at the Therapeutic Riding Center at its barn headquarters in Orinda.

This is the distinguished organization whose students won two national awards last year, as did one horse, Cocoa, named Therapeutic Horse of the Year.
No one knows yet why autistic kids and horses are so meaningfully connected, but we do know children so afflicted are increasing in numbers. And we witnessed what the combination of horse, child, trained teacher and volunteers can accomplish together, bringing joy, movement and confidence to the child.

It works for kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delays, hearing impairment, partial sight and Noonan syndrome as well as some other complicated maladies.
Orindan Judy Lazarus, founder and executive director of Xenophon (named after the B.C. Greek horseman, writer and military leader) began helping here 17 years ago with one horse and one teacher. She now administers up to 45 students each week, with six horses and seven teachers, plus many more volunteers.

Remember, this demonstration involves the rider, a trained leader and two teachers on each side of the horse. This means that, on this day of more than 100 degrees in direct sun, when the horse and rider trotted and cantered, the three human assistants were trotting and running, too. They were awe inspiring.

I enjoyed a visit with student Melyssa Snyder, age 11, a graduate of five years of riding at Xenophon. She is a delightful charmer, home-schooled by her mother, Laura Snyder. Melyssa will be in the sixth grade this fall.

She was meticulously painting faces on other young riders, between exhibitions.
“I’ve been riding Pal, but Pooh is my favorite horse; she’s fast!” said smiling Melyssa. Pooh is a bay Morgan, named after the late Orindan Pooh Lange, who gave her to Xenophon.
After the program, which brought a choke in the throat, we all had — what else — hot dogs, and some cooling lemonade, too.

The therapeutic rides go on all summer, but the horses, who seem to sense each rider’s ability and adapt to it perfectly, have to be taken care of all year. Each requires hay, grain, vitamins, minerals, supplements and wormer to stay healthy. This year, in our sinking economy, Xenophon found itself in the red for the first time. If you’d like to adopt a horse, check out Web site or send a tax-deductible donation to Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center, P.O. Box 16, Orinda, CA 94563.