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Specialized Equine Services raising money to provide therapy to riders

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Jacob Wells poses with Kory, the horse he rides in Specialized Equine Services and Therapeutic Riding program, at Giant City Stables prior to a lesson on Nov. 17.

MAKANDA — Jacob Wells normally uses a wheelchair to get around, except for an hour one day a week. On Wednesday afternoons, he is a horse rider at Giant City Stables.

Wells rides with the Specialized Equine Services, a group that provides horse-assisted learning to children and adults in Southern Illinois.

Wells is just one of the people with different disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism and other disorders who ride with Specialized Equine Services.

Patricia Nardini, co-founder of Specialized Equine Services, said its Sweethearts of the Saddle fundraiser was cancelled this year. The last time the event was held, it raised around $50,000.

Nardini said the group offers horse-assisted learning to people with special needs, both children and adults. Their disabilities include physical, cognitive, emotional or social issues and lifestyle challenges, like COVID. They offer classes on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

They also offer a program for veterans.

The cost for an hour of horse therapy is $90.

“We charge no more than $35 for most multiple therapies,” Nardini said.

The group is offering two fundraisers to help make up the lost funds this fall.

The first is a T-shirt sale. Orders are being taken through Dec. 1 for shirts Wells helped design.

The back of the shirt will have a design with a horse, flag and roses. It says, “Improving the quality of life through the healing power of horses.”

“In its mane, you have all the different disabilities such as CP and autism,” Wells said, calling them all the challenges they work out during therapy.

The American Flag represents veterans who also receive care from Specialized Equine Services.

Wells worked with an artist to create the design.

Jacob has been riding since March.

“I told myself only to do a couple times, but I loved bonding with the horse and getting to meet new people. I just came back for more. It’s very calming. I just love it,” he said with a huge smile.

Before March, the last time he rode was as an 8-year-old. He’s now 25. He rides Kori.

As Wells stroked Kori, he said they have been through so much together.

When he started riding, it was hard for him to relax on Kori. Now, that is pretty easy. It is also easier to sit up straight.

Therapy takes up to three people, depending on how well a person rides. The three include two side-walkers and a horse handler. The therapist does games with the riders as they are able and comfortable.

T.J. Hooker was at Wednesday’s lesson with his 10-year-old daughter, Alina. Alina has been riding five or six years.

Booker said everyone is patient and understanding, and everything is done for the riders. Alina loves animals, even the horse she got on Wednesday. It was a new horse named Slick.

“She always looks forward to it. It helps her spatially,” Hooker said about his daughter. “She is learning to command the horse and interact with different people.”

He said the lesson also provides small respite for a parent.

The other fundraiser is a basket raffle. The basket includes a fourth generation I-Pad Air 64-gigabyte, Echo Dot and accessories for the I-Pad. Tickets are $5 each.

For more information about either fundraiser, call Rachelle Gray at 618-922-3983. The cost of shirts vary based on the style.

For more information about Specialized Equine Services or to make a donation, visit


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