Niagara Gazette — When Miriam Smith started Equi*Star 20 years ago, she only had one horse, four riders, a handful of volunteers and the vision of a therapeutic riding center that could help handicapped people in Niagara County.
Today, Equi*Star has grown beyond Smith’s wildest dreams. It has its own “ranch,” complete with an indoor riding arena, 20 horses, a mule, a donkey and more than 100 volunteers. But more importantly, Equi*Star serves hundreds of handicapped children and adults every year.
With a new season starting, Equi*Star is seeking volunteers, and has set up two training sessions. The first is Saturday, with a second session set for March 1. Smith said that hundreds of volunteers are needed every year to support the growing program, and no experience with horses is needed. Volunteers just need to be 14 or older, and enjoy working with people. Volunteers can work as little as an hour a week, or as much as they want.
Smith didn’t start out planning to open a therapeutic riding center. She was just looking for something to do after becoming an “empty nester.”
“My kids were grown up, so at 49, I went back to college. I saw something on TV about how therapeutic riding can help really handicapped people, so I did an internship at Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center in East Aurora,” Smith said.
It didn’t take long for Smith to realize that folks in Niagara County would benefit from a riding center closer to home.
“I have a background in horses, and I love horseback riding, so I thought, ‘I can share this with someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience the thrill that riding a horse brings,’ “ Smith said.
With a lot of encouragement from the folks at Lothlorien, she founded Equi*Star.
One of her fellow volunteers from Lothlorien, also a Niagara County resident, has been helping Smith right from the beginning. Sandy Klinger is the Special Olympics coach and instructor at Equi*Star, and she has seen what the program can do for people with both physical and mental disabilities.