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Benefit raises money for riding therapy center (video)

By Melissa Crowe
Oct. 4, 2013 at 5:04 a.m.
Updated Oct. 5, 2013 at 5:05 a.m.

John Handley, 40, watches his ball fly cross the green at the golf tournament fundraiser at the Victoria Country Club. Handley's daughter, Mabry, 11, was diagnosed with autism at 3 and attends The Riding Therapy Center of Victoria.

With passion in his eyes and an occasional frustrated shake of his head, John Handley took a swing at the 13th hole.

Handley, a 40-year-old financial officer at Wells Fargo, and his team paid about $400 to play Friday in a benefit tournament at Victoria Country Club, hoping to raise funds for The Riding Therapy Center of Victoria.

Speaking from personal experience, Handley wants to see the therapy center succeed and grow.

"It's not pony rides for kids," Handley said. "They're doing real physical therapy."

Director Calle Hayes said her goal was to bring in $5,000 to help kick-start the center's budget for a covered arena.

As the only premier accredited center by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International in 125 miles, it is imperative to the community to reach out to as many special-needs children as possible, she said.

The arena will help the therapy center grow and provide a space to keep sessions going during the heat or rain.

The center helped Handley's 11-year-old daughter, Mabry, who was diagnosed at age 3 with autism, develop a new level of confidence.

"It's a challenge, but you get exposed to a whole new world of support," he said.

Every Thursday, she works with Bud, an American Haflinger, at the center.

"She loves Bud," Handley said. "She's gravitated toward Bud for sure."

Across the green Friday afternoon, similar stories and experiences popped up.

David Coffey, 45, of Victoria, started bringing his daughter, Ruth, 7, to therapy sessions about four years ago.

Her congenital disorder causes issues with communication, social interaction and failure to thrive, Coffey said.

"She was a child that was extremely introverted," he said. "It stimulated her brain in ways everyday life can't. It's given her a personality and confidence."

Coffey, who serves on the board of directors of the center, said the biggest factor to Ruth's success is the volunteers.

"Just to help them enjoy their lives and function better ... people with no relation to me at all love these kids."

Phillip Hopkins, 44, of Victoria, said he found out about the center through The Vine School, where his son, Harper, 5, is a student.

"At first, I thought it was a bunch of nonsense," Hopkins said. "It's not just a place to play with horses. ... You see these kids just light up."

His son was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and has been attending therapy sessions for about a year.

Hopkins said the progress is still showing.

"We need to continue to spread the word," he said. "It's fundraisers like this that will make the center better and better."



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