May 21, 2018
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Equestrian contest therapy for riders

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Brooke Lefebvre’s first equestrian competition Saturday resulted in first- and fourth-place finishes, but for Brooke, there was something more special than the ribbons: She did it riding Erica, her own horse.

Brooke, 21, of Waterville describes Erica in lots of different ways — spunky, gentle, a mother of four, a lover of carrots and apples, a hater of peppermints — but for her parents, Craig and Tammy Lefebvre, who bought Erica for their daughter two weeks ago, there’s a more important description: bombproof.

In horse terms, bombproof describes a calm and good-natured animal not easily spooked by sudden noises, bright lights or drastic movements. In other words, Erica is a safe horse.

After their win in the “working trails” competition at the Special Olympics Maine Equestrian Competition in Skowhegan, Brooke and Erica left the ring and the gazes of dozens of spectators for a few minutes together. Brooke stroked the animal’s muzzle and face and murmured soft congratulations for a job well done. The 18-year-old horse accepted the affection warmly and nuzzled her beaming new owner playfully.

“Now you see why we like to have Erica so much,” said Craig Lefebvre. “Brooke has had a lot of medical problems and she’s missed out on a lot of things growing up. Everyone should have something they love and enjoy. Now Brooke has her horse.”

Brooke was one of 88 athletes who competed in events Saturday. The competitors included children and adults who came to the Special Olympics with a variety of mental and physical disabilities, but it was obvious that they all had something in common: a love for what they were doing.

Alex Hooper of Searsport, who can’t use his own legs but can ride a horse, waited outside the ring for his chance to mount Frost, an appaloosa horse stabled at Freedom Riders in Warren.

“Not many people can do this, but here I am doing horseback riding,” said Hooper. “It’s an incredibly nice experience.”

The competitors were affiliated with a total of 12 stables across Maine, many of them therapeutic riding centers. Aside from the obvious benefits borne from love between horses and people, horseback riding is good exercise and doing it competitively takes determination, said Peter Selwood, who has chaired the competition’s organizing committee since it started 12 years ago.

Peg Lawler, another longtime member of the committee, said involvement in the competition puts the riders in the limelight, which for most of them is a thrill.

“A lot of these athletes now have something more in common with their siblings or schoolmates,” said Lawler. “It’s very rewarding for them.”

Jackie McConkie, owner of Friendship Stables in Augusta, brought 38 riders and several horses to the competition. She has been involved in therapeutic riding for decades.

“I couldn’t have chosen a better vocation,” she said. “Some people have told me I’ve been a blessing to others. The truth is that they’ve been a blessing to me.”

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