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updated: 7/28/2014 2:30 PM

Wauconda equine therapy program helps special needs kids

Partners for Progress helps special needs kids and adults gain confidence, independence

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  • Nine-year-old Drew McCarthy of Antioch rides Party with help from instructors Lindsey Weick and Marle Novacnik during the annual Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show Event hosted by Partners for Progress in Wauconda. The programs' riders with special needs showcased their riding skills for family and friends.

       Nine-year-old Drew McCarthy of Antioch rides Party with help from instructors Lindsey Weick and Marle Novacnik during the annual Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show Event hosted by Partners for Progress in Wauconda. The programs' riders with special needs showcased their riding skills for family and friends.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Four-year-old Emma Murray of Arlington Heights rides Cloud during the Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show event hosted by Partners for Progress.

       Four-year-old Emma Murray of Arlington Heights rides Cloud during the Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show event hosted by Partners for Progress.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Cheered on by family members, Kelly Corbin, 12, of Hawthorn Woods, rides Duncan during Partners for Progress's Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show in Wauconda.

       Cheered on by family members, Kelly Corbin, 12, of Hawthorn Woods, rides Duncan during Partners for Progress's Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show in Wauconda.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Alessia Woods, 13, of Long Grove, spends time with horse Fiona as she volunteers at Partners For Progress at Pine Grove Equestrian Center in Mundelein.

       Alessia Woods, 13, of Long Grove, spends time with horse Fiona as she volunteers at Partners For Progress at Pine Grove Equestrian Center in Mundelein.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Partners for Progress is a nonprofit therapeutic riding center for individuals who have special needs. The organization helps more than 200 clients each week, 95 percent of whom are younger than 21.

      Partners for Progress is a nonprofit therapeutic riding center for individuals who have special needs. The organization helps more than 200 clients each week, 95 percent of whom are younger than 21.
    COURTESY OF PARTNERS FOR PROGRESS

  • Volunteers work to make sure rider Brooke Smith, of Bristol, Wisconsin, has a safe and positive experience during her therapeutic riding session at Partners for Progress.

      Volunteers work to make sure rider Brooke Smith, of Bristol, Wisconsin, has a safe and positive experience during her therapeutic riding session at Partners for Progress.
    COURTESY OF PARTNERS FOR PROGRESS

 
By Lauren Rohr
lrohr@dailyherald.com

For six years, Lorna Zaloudek has traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, every August to watch her son, Evan, participate in horse shows. Every year, she watches him greet people he doesn't know and interact with horses, grinning from ear to ear.

She watches him shine, she said, and she couldn't be more proud.

Evan Zaloudek, 29, is autistic. Though he is very friendly, he has had problems with speech development and verbalization, said Lorna Zaloudek, a resident of Lindenhurst.

But in the nine years since he started riding horses at the Partners for Progress barn in Wauconda, she said, Evan's personality has developed, and his speech has improved.

"Since he's been at the barn, he has just blossomed into this man who talks to anybody and everybody," Lorna Zaloudek said. "The most rewarding thing is watching him show horses and seeing the pride on his face and the happiness that it brings him."

Partners for Progress is a nonprofit therapeutic riding center for individuals who have special needs. The organization helps more than 200 clients each week, 95 percent of whom are younger than 21, said Antioch resident Anne Margaret Huffman, director of community relations.

The organization was founded in 2005 when Executive Director Diane Helgeland decided to combine her passion for horses and helping individuals with special needs. Helgeland became certified through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association and has been a therapeutic instructor for nearly 20 years, Huffman said.

The clients who receive therapy through the Partners for Progress program have challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, Huffman said. It also offers a special program for veterans.

"It really doesn't matter what the challenge is," she said. "There's something we can do to help everyone."

Equine therapy helps in a variety of ways, Huffman said. It provides both a physical and a mental challenge for the individual riding the horse. It offers social interaction with the volunteers, staff members and other clients at the barn. And, she said, it gives clients a sense of self confidence and independence.

"These are all things these individuals are challenged with, and it helps them to overcome these challenges." Huffman said.

Huffman has witnessed these outcomes firsthand. Her 13-year-old daughter Rhiannon is autistic and has been attending sessions at the barn for eight years, she said.

"For (Rhiannon), one of the greatest things that has happened is her ability to process, her ability to transition, her ability to work as a member of a team, the social interaction -- which is a huge challenge for kids on this spectrum -- have all improved," Huffman said. "I can't even tell you the magnitude of what has happened since she's been riding here."

What makes Partners for Progress unique, Huffman said, is that program leaders and instructors carefully track each client's progress and achievements.

"We have a very clinical focus," she said. "There's no piece of man-made equipment that can give therapeutic input that a horse can give a human."

Because of that focus, Huffman said, every horse at the Partners for Progress barn must be professionally trained for therapeutic riding. When the horses get too old or misbehave, they are retired from being a therapy horse, she said.

The organization has 19 horses at its barn.

"We're pretty picky about the horses because the horses are our gold standard of therapeutic equipment," Huffman said.

Horse care and maintenance is the organization's largest expense, she added. To feed the horses hay and grain costs $130 a day, or nearly $47,500 a year, an amount that doesn't include medical expenses, grooming and training.

Though staff members often train the horses, volunteers also assist with training and caring for the horses, Huffman said. Partners for Progress has more than 100 volunteers, including Greg Jansen of Hawthorn Woods, who says he also benefits from the time he spends in the barn.

"When people are introduced to Partners for Progress, they're just astounded," said Jansen. "They'll feel such satisfaction in helping with the program."

Shortly after Jansen's wife died in February 2013, he drove past the barn and thought it might be a good place to volunteer. Jansen is no stranger to horses, as he had previously volunteered at other horse barns, including one in Wyoming.

What Jansen has experienced at the Partners for Progress barn was beyond what he had imagined, he said.

"To be around kids that are challenged like this and to know that I'm helping is truly rewarding," Jansen said. "They've done more for me than I could ever do for them. It's helped me keep my sanity."

Though he has only been involved with Partners for Progress for a little over a year, Jansen said he has been heavily involved in the day-to-day barn duties as well as multiple fundraisers, which are held throughout the year to help combat barn costs.

Jansen sits on multiple committees through the organization, including the organizational committee for the upcoming Family Summerfest and Participant Horse Show fundraiser, which will take place Sunday, Aug. 3.

For Evan Zaloudek, working and participating at Partners for Progress has become his way of life, Lorna Zaloudek said. She added that she has also volunteered in the years that Evan has been involved, and she has witnessed other kids grow and develop more than they ever thought possible.

"It's just amazing what I have seen (Partners for Progress) do for other kids over the years," Lorna Zaloudek said.

Her only regret, she said, is that she hadn't known about the organization sooner.

"I can only imagine what it would've done for him if he got involved years before," Lorna said. "It brightens him. He becomes full of life when he's on the horse.

"It has changed his whole life."

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