May 08, 2013 - Watching Meaghan Guzanek work the room at the 23rd Annual Derby Day Benefit Saturday, it's easy to see why her mother said, "She thinks she runs the place."
Malabar – or “Mal” for short – is OHS student Meaghan Guzanek’s favorite horse at the Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Metamora Township. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Meaghan repeatedly crisscrossed the arena at Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center (1223 Brauer Rd.) in Metamora Township, smiling at all the guests she encountered, helping out wherever she could and exuding confidence and charm. She definitely owned that room.
"I love the horses," said the Addison resident and Oxford High School student, who will turn 18 next month.
Meaghan, whose favorite horse is named Malabar (shown right), has been engaging in therapeutic riding sessions at Banbury Cross for almost 10 years now.
"At least once a week, she's out here," said her mother Renee Guzanek, "I love it. It's a great program. That's why we keep coming back year after year."
Meaghan started taking classes at Banbury Cross to help overcome her disabilities.
Meaghan was born with verbal apraxia, a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently.
She also had both gross motor delay and fine motor delay.
Gross motor delay occurs when a child does not reach developmental milestones – such as walking, crawling, jumping, running and riding a bike – at the expected times, according to the Intermountain Healthcare website. Gross motor refers to the large muscles of the body that are used for large motor skills.
Fine motor delay is any disruption or dysfunction in the coordination of the muscles, bones and/or nerves that produce small and precise movements, according to the Intermountain Healthcare website. Examples include picking up a small item using the index finger and thumb or the ability to determine the shape and weight of an object simply by touching it or lifting it.
"She's probably on the autism spectrum although she gets services (from the school district) for cognitive impairment," Renee said.
Thanks to Banbury Cross, Meaghan has made significant progress when it comes to dealing with and overcoming her disabilities.
"The results have been tremendous," Renee said. "She's much more verbal. She's much stronger with her gross motor skills. She used to be a little apprehensive of, for example, walking in the woods. Now, she just takes right off.
"She has no fear at all about doing things that will slightly put her off balance because she feels so much stronger. It's done a lot for her."
When Meaghan started at Banbury Cross, she required someone to lead the horse she was riding and two people to walk on either side to help her during the lesson.
"Now, she rides independently for the most part," Renee said. "She does a lot of things that I never thought she would be able to do and she does them very well. She's very proud of herself."
"She's so much more confident," Renee noted. "She's very independent. She has a lot of control."
But it isn't just the physical aspects that Meaghan is benefiting from.
"She also gets the socialization in an environment that's so accepting of her," Renee said. "It's like a family out here, which is why she comes out here and thinks she runs the place."
"She is so comfortable here," Renee explained. "The volunteers are very consistent from lesson to lesson, so she gets to know everybody very well. She knows the instructors very well.
"They work with her on an individual level. Even if she's in a class of three students and the students' skills vary, they work directly with Meaghan to challenge her at her level."
Coming to Banbury Cross has expanded Meaghan's social circle. "There's a lot of local people who use this facility so she sees people she knows all over (town)," Renee said. "It feels like a big family for her."
Renee is extremely grateful to Banbury Cross for all the center's done to improve her daughter's development and quality of life.
"I am willing to give all kinds of time and attention to this program simply because it makes her feel so great," she said. "Whatever I can do to keep this going, I'm willing to do."
Renee noted that Banbury Cross is always looking for community support. Folks are encouraged to donate whatever they can be it time, services or money.
"Every little bit helps," she said. "We have to get the word out in order to sustain this place. It costs a lot of money to support the horses."
To Renee, what makes Banbury Cross so special is the fact that it gives people like her daughter a place and activities to call their own.
"It's hard to have a disability and to be in high school because you don't get to participate in a lot of things, like prom and some of the other social events that your mainstream kids can participate in," she said.
"This is her prom," Renee explained. "She's so excited to here. She can't wait. She plans what she's going to wear. She plans what she's going to do.
"They always have something special for her to do. They look for ways to make her shine."
For more information, please visit www.banburycrosstec.org or call (248) 628-7433.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.