Striding past stereotypes, misconceptions

first_img“I want my daughter to grow up knowing that the only real limitations in life are letting the stereotypes or misconceptions stop us from pursuing our dreams.” – Ellen Stohl Padu stands perfectly still Wednesday morning as volunteers lift Ellen Stohl from her wheelchair onto the saddle on his back. A few feet away, Zoe’s eyes never leave her 39-year-old mother and the therapy horse. At 2, she’s still at least a year away from being old enough to ride her own horse in the ring with her quadriplegic mother at Strides Therapeutic Riding Center in Northridge. Ellen was paralyzed from the waist down and has limited movement in her upper body. There’s no rush. She’s still having fun practicing on her rocking horse at home and sharing the saddle on Padu with her mom three times a week. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 “Zoe knows my legs don’t work, that I have to use a wheelchair,” says Ellen, who has been a quadriplegic since a 1983 automobile accident. “She’s aware there’s a difference between me and other moms.” But not here. Not on horseback. Here, mother and daughter have four strong legs to carry them, and plenty of time to dispel the stereotypes and misconceptions about having a disability. Plenty of time together, riding Padu and pursing a dream. “Having a physical disability, I worried that I would be limited in the activities I could share with an able-bodied child,” Ellen says. “I wasn’t going to let a wheelchair put me on the sidelines of my daughter’s life growing up. “I knew we would never kick a soccer ball around the yard or play softball together. But on the back of a horse, anything is possible. I’ve already ridden horseback in Big Bear, Mount Hood, Ore., and along the Baja coastline. “As Zoe grows up, we’ll be able to climb mountains, stroll along the coastline and share things I never thought possible because of the confidence – physically, mentally and emotionally – therapeutic horseback riding has given me.” Sitting in the shade only a few yards from the riding ring, Meredith Vincent watches her 9-year-old son, Sam, ride a 22-year-old therapy horse named Chiquita. The boy has Asperger syndrome, a neurobiological disorder that causes autistic-like behavior. “Sam is extremely bright and verbal, but he doesn’t understand social nuances,” Meredith says. “He can’t relate to people on an emotional level. But when he’s out there riding Chiquita, he totally relates to that old horse. “They say horses can sense how a rider feels, and I know riding Chiquita touches something emotionally inside my son nothing else ever has.” Nora Fischback has seen plenty of stereotypes and misconceptions about disabilities destroyed in the six years she’s run Strides Therapeutic Riding Center. She started with 40 physically disabled riders and Chiquita. Today, there are 70 riders and 18 horses that have been donated over the years. “Good therapy horses are extremely responsive to emotions and the riders on their backs,” she says. “I’ve seen horses take a step sideways to get underneath a rider losing his balance, or just stop and refuse to move because they could feel the rider was out of balance. “Look at them out there,” Nora said, watching Padu carry Ellen and Zoe around the ring. “You would never know Ellen has a disability. Anything is possible on the back of a horse.” Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] HOW TO HELP For information on Strides Therapeutic Riding Center and its next month’s ride-a-thon to raise money for a handicap-accessible bathroom at the center, call Nora Fischback at (818) 341-4737 or see 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more