AGOURA : Riding Program for Disabled Threatened

A fledgling horseback-riding program for people with disabilities and life-threatening diseases might be forced to close due to a lack of funds, organizers said Tuesday.

Hearts and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center in the Agoura area has for three months offered a riding program for about 40 blind, autistic and developmentally disabled children and adults. The group's leaders say the program gives the riders a rare feeling of being in control of their surroundings.

"When these (riders) are on those big horses, guiding them, it's one of the few times in their lives when they're in control of something," said Debora Wait, one of the program's directors. "It really gives them a sense of accomplishment, which is often missing."

But tough fiscal times may force the closure of Hearts and Horses, an offshoot of the similar Special Equestrian Riding Therapy program, which operated from the Agoura-area ranch for three years before moving to Malibu, Wait said.

Although the program costs less than $2,000 a month to operate, private donations and grants for the effort have been few and far between, Wait said. "It's just hard to get something going right now with the economy the way it is," she said. "But we still have plans for expansion, if funds come through."

The center won a weeklong contract this month to provide horse-riding for young cancer patients at the Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times in Idyllwild, after which organizers plan to start a last-ditch fund-raising campaign, Wait said.

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