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Special Sessions

“Walk on!”

    DeJon Johhson, 8, said it with a smile on his face. Those words arehow students from the Brookhaven School District prompt the horsesthey ride at the Freedom Reins Therapeutic Horse Riding Center tobegin walking.

    Some students are a little shy about it. They whisper the wordswhile volunteers tug at the reins to prompt the horse forward.

    Others speak right up and belt it out. Johnson was one of thelatter.

    Friday afternoon, Johnson, along with classmates from BrookhavenElementary School’s special needs program traveled to Freedom Reinsfor an afternoon riding session.

    Friday was Johnson’s first session at the riding center, but hedidn’t show it. He sat tall in the saddle, smiled big and looked incontrol.

    Johnson will have multiple opportunities to return. Friday’ssession was the first of several to occur.

    Friday’s session was also the latest in a successful partnershipbetween the riding center and the school.

    Since 2003, special needs students have come to Freedom Reins forlessons that act as an extension of their curriculum.

    The schools are scheduled for six weeks of Friday lessons in thefall, and six weeks of Friday lessons in the spring, weatherpermitting.

    Charles “Shorty” Lofton, a riding instructor, said all six of thespring lessons usually go fine, but the fall lessons are morelikely to be rained out.

    When that happens, the kids are not happy.

    “We do not like rainy Fridays,” said Kathy Shackelford, a BESteacher working with the special needs students.

    If the forecast calls for rain, Shackelford said the kids come offthe bus worried.

    “They ask, ‘Are we going?'” she said.

    A group from Mamie Martin comes at 8 a.m. Lipsey and BES studentscome at noon. In all, third- through sixth-graders participate inthe program.

    The riding incorporates the children’s curriculum. Lofton said theacademic component is an important part of the lessons.

    Shackelford will inform Lofton what each student needs to focus on,and Lofton individualizes his instruction accordingly.

    Some instruction focuses on coordination and fine motor skills.Friday, Johnson counted rings off of a stand and replaced them onanother one.

    Lofton also carried a stack of flash cards with him, promptingstudents to recognize certain numbers or words.

    “We do lessons with numbers, colors, word recognition,” Loftonsaid. “We use whatever the kids are working on.”

    Shackelford said having their lessons presented in a non-classroomenvironment for the kids is valuable.

    “It’s so much more fun to do math on horseback,” Shackelfordsaid.

    The lessons are able to assist children in a variety of ways.

    “It’s been so good for lots of different reasons, for children withlanguage problems, with physical problems and so on,” she said.

    This fall’s lessons come as the riding center is recovering fromflood damage that occurred early in September. Rains from TropicalStorm Lee resuted in some flooding along Fair River, which causedsome damage to the office, stalls and equipment at the FreedomReins center.

    Lofton reported that recovery efforts have gone well.

    These efforts included the building of a new mounting ramp withhelp by volunteers from the Wal-Mart Distribution Center. The oldramp was damaged in the flooding and fell apart when Lofton triedto move it.

      New hay was also donated to thecenter. Lofton has replaced the floor in the stalls and partiallyrepaired a road leading to the center.

    “We’re pretty much back,” Lofton said.