State College

State College Wild Dream Team saddles up for new experiences

Corey Fick, a student in State High’s Wild Dream Team, rides a horse at Hands On Therapeutic Riding at Nancy Maier’s stables on Thursday.
Corey Fick, a student in State High’s Wild Dream Team, rides a horse at Hands On Therapeutic Riding at Nancy Maier’s stables on Thursday. Photo provided

Scooter was the legs for Krista Musar, who can’t walk.

Two support staff employees from State College Area School District helped the 17-year-old from her wheelchair and onto the brown Arabian horse Thursday morning at Nancy Maier’s stables.

She sat on the mount sideways, as her body wouldn’t allow her to straddle the saddle.

And for about a half-hour, Musar was able to ride through a grassy course.

Maier helped guide Scooter, while State College Area High School special education teacher Jenny Lee and district physical therapist Adrienne Fee helped Musar avoid falling off the steed.

Musar was one of seven special education summer school students who took a field trip to Hands On Therapeutic Riding at Maier’s stables on Smith Road.

Lee leads a class of State High special education students ages 14 to 21, called the Wild Dream Team. She has taken them to the stables for therapeutic riding each summer for about 20 years.

It’s a way to help boost their self-esteem and overcome their fears, Lee said.

“Some kids can’t walk, but the horses can walk for them; the kids can’t drive cars, but they can drive horses,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to use gross motor skills and gives them the ability to start a relationship with something bigger than themselves.”

Students were responsible for grooming and feeding the horses before and after riding them.

Lee said some students have physical abnormalities, like Musar, who was diagnosed with Weissenbacher-Zweymuller syndrome.

Nurse Deb Heckman said there are only about 14 reported cases of the congenital disorder in the world.

Riding the horses helps normalize muscle and joint patterns, and improves postural adjustments, Lee said.

Maier added that riding also helps with balance and coordination, relaxation of tight muscles, and self-awareness.

Though Musar couldn’t steer the horse herself, she was given green, yellow and red cards that she would point to when she wanted Scooter to go, slow down or stop. When Musar would point to the color, Maier would direct the horse accordingly.

Classmate Alan Kunig, 17, is hearing and visually impaired, but was able to ride a horse named Mariah around the same course Thursday.

He pulled back gently on the reins for Mariah to stop, and tugged to the right when he wanted the horse to go in another direction.

At each checkpoint, he completed educational games. And as Kunig hopped off the horse at the end of the course, he yelled “yee haw” loudly.

“It’s easy,” Kunig said. “We learn this stuff from the teachers and it’s a lot of fun.”

The students will bring what they learned at the stables into the classroom to work on Four Square Writing — a simplified method for teaching writing to students. Lee said the students will write about what they learned during their field trip and write thank you letters.

“It carries over into daily curriculum,” Lee said. “If we can do this every week, we would.”

The Hands On Therapeutic program specializes in riding for individuals with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. It’s a volunteer-driven program operated by certified trainers since 1997, Maier said.