Gaining Strength: Local stable provides aid to those with special needs


Courtesy of Mary Sharp

Horse SouixZQ provides support to student Savannah Adams during her lesson. Photo courtesy Mary Sharp

Zoey Pudenz, Co Editor-In-Chief

In today’s society, many people are finding new ways to cope with mental, physical and emotional disabilities. One way to do this is through animal-assisted therapy.

According to the Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can help reduce pain and anxiety in people with a range of health problems. One woman that wanted to help patients struggling with emotional and physical disabilities is Mary Sharp.

Mary Sharp is the founder and executive director of Due West Therapeutic Riding Center. The center is a non-profit program where adults and children with disabilities can go for therapeutic horseback riding lessons.

Mary combined her love for individuals with special needs and horses to create the therapeutic riding center. She generated this idea after volunteering as a teenager for other therapeutic riding centers.

“I started volunteering to work with horses, but after I met the people I was helping, it changed my whole mindset,” Mary said. “All of the riders in this area; Leavenworth, Douglas, and Wyandotte County, were all going way far south or way far east for lessons, so I thought that we could create a center to serve people out here.”

Due West is located in Wyandotte County and is the first of its kind in the area. It is also the only program that provides lessons all year round.

“We are not just serving the rider, but also the riders’ family, their parents, caregivers, brothers, sisters, whoever is apart of their circle we want to take care of them,” Mary said. “That’s why we have walking and riding paths with a pond to take care of the riders’ inner circle.”

Due West also has different adult and student volunteer opportunities.

“There are a lot of different jobs you can do, but the one I did was groom the horse, put the saddle on and get the horse ready before the rider came in,” said sophomore volunteer Skyler Ward.    

Another student volunteer is senior Henry Sharp, who is also the son of owner Mary.

“My favorite memory is hanging out with my mom, helping her and doing volunteer work,” Henry said.

Horses help those with physical disabilities through the mimicking tactic. When the rider is placed on the horse, the horse is able to mimic the area of weakness on the rider, and strengthens that weakness in a non-stressful way.

“We have had kiddos that had no core strength so they had to lay down on the horse, but now they are sitting up and able to feed themselves,” Mary said. “That movement of the horse strengthens all the parts they need to walk upright and use their muscles correctly.”

Horse-therapy not only deals with patients with physical disabilities, but also those with mental and emotional disabilities by acting as a motivator. The interaction between the instructors and volunteers also creates a safe space for them.

“Another thing that’s neat is not a lot of people, in general, get to ride horses, or be around horses. So when patients go into their areas of work or their school and can say ‘I ride horses,” it creates something to talk about,” Mary said. “Our therapeutic riders also ride along during our conventional lessons so they are making friendships with those riders as well.”

Mary believes that Due West has brought many families together by seeing their child’s improvement and growth.

“Hearing that a kid’s grades have improved, that a kid can sit up and feed themselves, hearing patients speak their first words, just seeing the families get as much out of this experience as the riders do,” Mary said. “That is my favorite part.”