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Riding toward confidence with Able Riders

Appeal-Democrat - 8/29/2017

Aug. 29--It's a win-win: Jackson Roberts loves riding horses, and his mother says it helps her connection with her autistic son.

For more than three years, the Roberts family has been going to Able Riders Therapeutic Horseback Riding, a Yuba City-based program operated by Family SOUP that provides opportunities for children with disabilities.

"It's something he really likes to do, and we get to interact together," Jessica Roberts said, of her 10-year-old son. "He's learned a lot about listening and taking direction from others on what to do."

The Roberts family, of Yuba City, was initially on a waitlist to attend the program. But since then, the weekly routine is something Jackson looks forward to.

"Every week, he stands by the door, ready to go to Able Riders," Jessica Roberts said. "He gets his cowboy boots, his Able Riders shirt and his safety helmet."

It's a similar story for other families.

Yuba City resident Gabriela Covarrubiaz has been taking her daughter Kaylin Flores-Covarrubiaz, 11, to ride horses for the past year.

"She really loves it, and I've seen a lot of improvement," Gabriela Covarrubiaz said. "She just loves being around horses."

Rob Eneix of Marysville has been taking his grandson, David Eneix, 6, to Able Riders for about a year and also said he sees the results.

"It helps him run, and he used to not run, but the riding has really helped him," Rob Eneix said. "He runs much better and he pays attention better, too."

Last week, Roberts, Flores-Covarrubiaz and Eneix were part of a group of riders and their family members who were at Red Dog Ranch in Yuba City, which hosts the program under the direction of Brenda Leonhardt, an Able Riders program coordinator.

"Being able to do the different obstacles changes the movement for the horses and the kids," Leonhardt said. "Currently, we have 21 riders in the program, we own four horses and one volunteer can offer their horse as well."

Each child gets on his or her horse with help from a volunteer and occasionally a family member -- both who walk alongside the horse as they move though the shaded arena around obstacles.

Leonhardt said there's a wait list of about a dozen children who want to ride. The program is always looking for volunteers and support from the community to help with the program.

"Family SOUP has the Bistro in the Buttes fundraiser, and Able Riders gets portion of that and locally, we get donations from the community to support Able Riders," Leonhardt said. "Butte Sand and Gravel donated sand for the arena -- it was very kind."

Help from the Girl Scouts

Earlier this month, a local Girl Scout completed a project that added to the obstacles in the Red Dog Ranch arena for the Able Riders program.

Athena Aguliar, 18, a native of Yuba City who is attending Pepperdine University, built a series of obstacles that Brenda Leonhardt said enhances the experience for the children in the program.

"Being there the first day after I finished the obstacles, I cried because it was so enlightening," Aguliar said. "Seeing something I made and that the kids get to use was really rewarding"

Aguliar said her father helped her with some of the more challenging tasks of building the obstacles, but she did all the work with a hammer, nails and paint in the hot sun. She finished it a week before leaving for college.

"Some of the kids were nervous and some were excited, and I got to see the reactions and those who couldn't do it at first were able to do it later and it was an amazing opportunity," Aguliar said. "That encouraged me to want to do more volunteering and helping kids with disabilities because I want to make a difference."

Aguliar is a member of Girl Scout Troop 1245, which serves Olivehurst, Linda, Yuba City and Marysville and is co-led by her mother, Tara Krohn and Cindy Smoot.

Aguliar's, twin sister, Alexia, and another longtime Girl Scout, Emily Smoot, 18, all earned Gold Awards for their projects.

"The Gold Award is the equivalent to the Boy Scout Eagle Service Project -- it's 80 hours of work on the project, and there are several requirements," Krohn said. "We also had eight silver winners and 11 bronze winners."

Krohn said Alexia's project involved refurbishing a room in the Yuba City Senior Center that will be available for Girl Scout leaders to meet in.

Smoot is working on her project, called My Little Library, and will see a few stand-alone libraries with 20-25 books that people can check out for free.

"People think the Girl Scouts is about selling cookies, and it's much more," Krohn said. "One year, we sponsored 27 families for Christmas. We got donations from other troops and they got a full meal and a present for each child -- it's one of many things we do."

CONTACT Chris Kaufman at 749-4794


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