Therapeutic Riding For Disabled Veterans

This entry is taken with permission from the regardinghorses.com blog. Regarding Horses is one of the finest equestrian blogs on the Internet. Stop by and visit today.

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Top dressage rider Luis Denizard and Courtney King-Dye (who trained under him early in her career) are offering their support for the the North American Riding For the Handicapped Horses For Heroes Program. This therapeutic riding program works with veterans who have been wounded and disabled in service to our country and protecting our freedoms. Not only are these true horseman supporting a great cause, they are bringing more awareness for this program; it’s a great time to do so as it’s the big Olympic and Paralympic year. Read on about how these riders are giving back, and support their efforts if you can!

Puerto Rican Dressage Star Luis Denizard Solicits Help for NARHA’s Horses for Heroes
Organization Aids Soldiers Wounded Iraqi and Afganistan FEI-level rider Luis Denizard traveled to the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in July 2007 and competed as Puerto Rico’s sole dressage representative. It was his first international competition, and he found he had an amazing following of people ready to support him in any way they could. Students, former employers, and fellow trainers rallied together to help raise the money needed to cover the high costs of travel.

This summer, he is hoping that same group will rally around him again, but this time it isn’t his own dressage career he has in mind. Denizard is asking his peers, friends, and acquaintances to come together to support “NARHA Horses for Heroes,” an organization that helps wounded veterans through equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). Many of the program participants have lost limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and riding horses helps their bodies learn to be mobile again. Working with the horses also helps with the depression that many of U.S. soldiers deal with after going through these traumatic experiences. NARHA Horses for Heroes is a program being developed by the NARHA, which was formed in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Because of how strongly he believes in giving back, Denizard is making a plea to his fellow riders, trainers, and friends, asking them to donate their time and talents to Horses for Heroes. He is donating a week of training at his facility to be auctioned off at the Northeast Regional Adult Amateur Dressage Championships in October during the Silent Auction. All proceeds from the Silent Auction, to be held October 18 & 19, 2008 at Mystic Valley Hunt Club, will go to Horses For Heroes.

While en route to Beijing, Courtney King-Dye emailed from her Blackberry and pledged her support for this event – donating two lessons with her to be auctioned off at the event.

Denizard says, “I believe in NARHA’s Horses for Heroes because of the good that horses have in them for healing the mind and soul. That they help the soldiers improve motor skill functions is icing on the cake. These soldiers have risked their lives for our country and our morals. Many have been severely injured and will have lifelong disabilities. Any and all ways we can give back to support them is very important.”
“Horses have had such a profound impact on my life, and they saved me from many of the pitfalls of growing up in an inner-city environment,” says Denizard. “I firmly believe in horses’ ability to change people’s lives in a positive way.” When he found out about Horses for Heroes, he was drawn to the cause. As a rider for Puerto Rico and a U.S. citizen, he is appreciative of the sacrifices that others have made to provide him opportunities for growth and success. Remaining grateful, he has tried to be alert to opportunities to give back to others.

Denizard started riding Paige Finnegan’s Karola 1 last January, with aspirations of going to Beijing to compete in the Olympic Games. He knew that it would be a difficult task to deliver an Olympic-caliber performance in such a short span of time. Denizard put in his best effort, but ultimately did not meet the requirements in the spring to achieve his certificate of capability with the mare, with whom he had only been riding for a matter of months. His sponsors have stood by him, realizing that success doesn’t just mean winning competitions.

Renee Isler of Westford, MA is one of Denizard’s sponsors, and she provided him with funds that enabled him to compete as he made a bid to represent Puerto Rico at the Olympic Games. Isler says, ” Lou is a hard worker, and what I want our Young Riders to see is that it’s this determination and perseverance that’s important, not just the ribbons and accolades.” Isler is a longtime supporter of the U.S. Young Riders in dressage. Isler chooses riders to sponsor based largely on their work ethic and talent. She donated funds that enabled Courtney King-Dye (who, incidentally, was a student of Denizard’s while she was a child) to travel to the 2008 World Cup Finals in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, in March 2008. Isler again sponsored King-Dye when she went to the Olympic selection trials in June. Of Denizard, King-Dye says, “Lou was my first real trainer, and I am so thankful for that because he gave me such great training basics. He also exemplified the integrity and ethics that all horse people should have. I have so many memories of these sudden epiphanies in my lessons with him that were really the foundation of training a horse but were completely magical to me in the moment. I feel extremely lucky to have had my start with such a wonderful person and trainer.”

Isler has also been a premier sponsor at major east coast shows and the annual Wellington Junior/Young Rider Clinic organized by Dr. Cetty Weiss in Florida and the Palm Beach Derby. She has worked with the Dressage Foundation for two years and established the “Renee Isler Dressage Support Fund,” which provides grants for Young Riders accepted to the USDF FEI JR/YR Clinics.

Isler explains that she appreciates a solid work ethic. She grew up wanting to ride but was not able to be around horses because her family did not have the financial means to provide her lessons. Because of her background, establishing a fund that enables deserving riders to continue their education is very important to her. Denizard is also a self-made horseman who cleaned stalls and swept aisles for years for the privilege of riding and being around horses. He says he was told to “pick up a broom” when he first started hanging around a stable as a teen, and he hasn’t put the broom back down since then.

October 2008 will be a busy month for Denizard. Before the Silent Auction, he is moving his training center to Treasure Coast Farm in Palm City, Florida. This new facility, owned by Tom Mikes, boasts a hurricane-ready barn, two full-sized outdoor dressage arenas, and an insulated indoor arena. Treasure Coast Farm also has large pastures and a galloping track on its lush 25 acres. Leaving the cold New England winters will not be difficult, but leaving his clients and friends to build a new business is a daunting task.

With his competitive sights set on the World Equestrian Games and the Central American Games in 2010, training out of Mike’s world-class facility and being with many of the top dressage riders and trainers year round will increase Denizard’s exposure and build him into a stronger international competitor. The move will also allow Denizard to be closer to Puerto Rico where he teaches and plans to build more business.

If you would like to donate to the silent auction or have questions, fill out the donation form or email Jen at jkoppy@comcast.net. Also, feel free to post this article on your blog if you’d like to help spread the word!

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