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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Race horse has new mission -- helping kids

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

(Photo)
Shown in silhouette, Penny Akers gives Tarquin Joe his favorite candy treat inside the barn at Little Creek Special Equestrians, near Center Point. The retired race horse is settled in his new home and is undergoing special training to work with handicapped children.

Kicking up his heels in the fast lane before moving to his new home near Center Point, Tarquin Joe has slowed down his trot to help young people with disabilities.

Recently donated to the Little Creek Special Equestrians by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in Kentucky, the retired race horse is undergoing special training to assist in equine activities aimed at helping handicapped individuals.

Tarquin Joe suffered a knee injury before moving to his new pasture from Kentucky.

Although inmates at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in his home state worked with the gray horse to restore some of the lost range of motion he sustained from his racing days, the retired runner won't ever be the athlete he used to be.

"He's good for the program, but he's not good for running and jumping anymore," Penny Akers, a certified therapeutic riding instructor, said.

The riding skills that Akers teaches, and in which Tarquin Joe will soon be active, are especially beneficial in building strength, increasing coordination and self-esteem in children who suffer from a variety of disorders, including Cerebral Palsy, trauma-related injuries, birth defects and various mental and physical disorders.

"Sometimes this is the first time the kids have a chance to be around horses," Akers said, adding it's an exciting opportunity for them to interact with the powerful animals.

She's quick to point out how proud she is to have the champion at the therapy-centered business. The 10-year-old thoroughbred comes from a noble bloodline.

"Almost every generation (of his ancestors) raced in the Kentucky Derby," Akers said. Her newest horse comes from a long line of Triple Crown and Hall of Fame champions. It's hard for her to imagine that the winner of more than $330,000 in prizes might have otherwise met a worse fate, such as a slaughter house, if not taken in by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Akers and her husband, Harlan, founded the Little Creek Special Equestrians last October with the goal in mind to help those ages 4 and up with disabilities. The couple traveled to Kentucky to pick up the horse about a month ago. The experienced horse-handlers were excited about adding Tarquin Joe to the program.

"I've always wanted horses, from the time I was really small," Akers said, adding she was 12 when she got her first horse. "For some people, horses are just part of them."

So far, his transition from champion runner to therapy horse has been a breeze.

"He's very alert and personable -- seems very willing to do whatever we want him to do," Akers recently said about the 1,100-pound horse.

He is also getting along well with the three other Little Creek horses. Tarquin Joe has become acquainted with seven other horses, owned by the Akers. A couple of those are sometimes used in the therapy sessions as well.

"Joe is very, very laid back and easy to get along with," Akers said, feeding the eager horse his favorite treat -- Jolly Ranchers candy. He also likes to eat hay, sweet feed, oats and an occasional peppermint.

Akers offers weekly sessions at the non-profit ranch where she has 11 patients registered for equine therapy this spring. The charge is $20 per session, which Akers explained goes toward purchasing necessary equipment, feeding and medical care for the horses. The business is run entirely by volunteers and always accepts community donations.

Research has shown that persons with disabilities experience physical, mental and emotional rewards from horseback riding. Just being involved in general animal care has the participants leaving with a smile on their faces.

"They don't realize they're doing the same things as they do in their traditional therapy sessions, because it's fun," Akers said, explaining her special-needs students get to do a variety of activities with the horses, including riding, grooming and feeding.

"We try to incorporate educational as well as physical, and make it fun for the riders," Akers said.

Tarquin Joe is getting familiarized with a variety of colors, sounds and toys often used in equine therapy before he is used in the sessions with students.

For more information on equine therapy or to donate money toward the program, call Penny Akers at (812) 986-3097.



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