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updated: 11/16/2012 11:04 AM

FTEA has a barn full of winners

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  • Issac Raske takes a ride on Yomi with volunteers by his side during the FTEA Ride-a-Thon earlier this year.

    Issac Raske takes a ride on Yomi with volunteers by his side during the FTEA Ride-a-Thon earlier this year.
    Rachel Moore

Kelli Murray

FTEA has a barn full of winners

Everybody loves a winner, and there just happens to be several of those associated with Winfield-based Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities.

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International has recognized West Chicago resident Carrie Bunge as its 2012 PATH International Certified Professional of Region 7 winner, as well as National Winner. Veterinarian Dr. Jim McCaslin of DuWayne Animal Clinic in West Chicago was named 2012 PATH International Region 7 Volunteer Veterinarian, and Isaac Zhiqian Raske, 7, of Wheaton, was named 2012 PATH International Child Equestrian Winner.

As part of the process for selection, nominations were submitted by those who knew the winners best: FTEA participants and staff.

FTEA participant Phoenix "Pixie" Ramsey submitted a letter on behalf on her riding instructor, Carrie Bunge. In part, it reads "I think Miss Carrie is a wonderful riding instructor because she helps me to really understand how to ride correctly. … We sometimes work on hard skills but I always feel a sense of accomplishment riding with Miss Carrie."

Bunge has been part of the FTEA staff since 2004 after a stint of volunteering at the barn. The notification of her winning as Certified Professional of Region 7 came as a surprise.

"I remember getting the letter and I had to read it twice to really understand it," Bunge said. "It was pretty cool."

Bunge and the other winners flew out to Bellevue, Wash. for the PATH annual conference and awards banquet Oct. 31-Nov. 3. She received another surprise on arrival: She was named National Winner, beating out instructors from 11 regions.

"It was completely unexpected," Bunge said. "They read part of Pixie's letter and the whole crowd thought it was cute. It was very touching."

As the PATH Child Equestrian Winner of the Year, Isaac's achievement is just one more in a long list of accomplishments. He was born in 2006 in Shenyang City, China with a severe visual impairment. He was adopted into the family of Angela and John Raske when he was about 2 years old. He conquered his new culture and language as well as excelling at Braille and cane use. He began to ride at FTEA when he was 5 years old.

"We were not sure how he'd respond to a very large animal," Angela Raske said. With essentially no vision, he can sense the horse's presence and he took to it, she said. "He is very open to new experiences and will push past his fear."

FTEA riding instructor Rachel Moore has been instructing Isaac since his start at the barn and spoke to her about wanting to write a nomination for PATH.

Angela Raske said that the family was honored and delighted that Rachel wanted to nominate Isaac. "I think a lot of FTEA and they work so hard and have a lot of heart for what they do," she said. "They put their all into the program."

"Isaac's memory and sense of touch are amazing," Moore's nomination letter reads. "At the beginning of every lesson he is able to name his mount with simply a pat on their shoulder as a clue. …Besides being a shining star in the ring, Isaac is a pleasure to work with and a friend to volunteers and fellow riders."

Moore wrote in her letter that with his participation at FTEA, he has developed self confidence and safe navigational teamwork with an animal which will benefit him one day when he teams up with a guide dog.

"Blind people must learn by doing, not seeing like sighted folks primarily do, thus the horse's hip rotation rhythm under his own body provides an unmatchable cue for how he should move as well," Moore's letter states. "Riding provides the example and therapeutic motion directly to the rider's body, helping Isaac walk and run more smoothly and safely every day."

The animal-human connection is important in a program such as FTEA, and no one may know that better than veterinarian McCaslin.

FTEA instructor and speech-language pathologist Jennifer Buckley wrote a nomination for McCaslin.

"Dr. McCaslin is instrumental in the care of the 11 horses owned by Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities…McCaslin offers horse health care and advice that is vitally important to this nonprofit organization, often at a reduced price."

Most of the horses have been donated to FTEA, typically after retiring from other careers, so they are older horses that require special attention and care.

Buckley wrote in her nomination that McCaslin has provided excellent programs of care to help FTEA horses who have been diagnosed with chronic health conditions in addition to routine care.

"It is in part due to Dr. McCaslin's attention that these horses are able to continue to provide such as wonderful service for individual with disabilities in the local community, "Buckley wrote.

Clearly, with the regional and national awards recently presented, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International agrees with FTEA participants and staff: They have a barn full of winners.

FTEA's mission is to provide a program of therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with physical, emotional, cognitive, and/or developmental challenges. The program seeks to meet the special therapeutic needs of each client in a recreational setting.

FTEA is located at 28W051 Liberty St., Winfield. For more information, go to, or call 630-588-8543.