August 27, 2014 - Saturday was an exciting day for the enthusiastic young riders at Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center (1223 Brauer Rd.) in Metamora Township.
Clear Lake Elementary second-grader Max Lanni with the trophy he earned at the show. (click for larger version)
They took center stage as the star attractions at Banbury's annual Open House and Horse Show.
"It gives all of our riders who have been working so hard all year, a chance to show off their skills and demonstrate to their friends and families what they've been learning," said Director Jessica Moore.
The event is also designed to introduce people to the center and inform them about the valuable services it provides to a special group of individuals.
Banbury Cross utilizes horseback riding to help students with physical and cognitive disabilities grow emotionally and socially while improving their overall physical fitness.
"For the summer session, we had 65 to 70 (students)," Moore said. "During the school year, we have upwards of 100. And we usually have about 80 volunteers a week, which is huge."
The center is home to 11 horses.
This year's horse show included four proud riders from Oxford – Alex Kiss, Emily Williams, Max Lanni and Christian Maugherman.
"Most of our riders aren't in your typical sports programs in school, so this is just a way for them to show off their skills in front of an audience," Moore said. "It's really a confidence-builder."
"I love horses," said Kiss, who's been coming to Banbury Cross for seven years and is about to enter his senior year at Oxford High School. "The feeling" he gets atop a horse is his favorite part of the experience.
"He seems at ease riding a horse," said his mother Misty.
Riding has improved her son's core strength, increased his self-confidence, helped him become "more socially involved" as opposed to his normal "quiet" self and provided him with a calming activity, according to Misty.
"I love the program," she said. "It gives him a lot of encouragement. It gives him self-esteem."
Misty said disabled kids like her son often "get picked on in school," but at Banbury Cross, they're accepted for who they are and made to feel like they belong.
"It's a safe place," she said.
Williams, who's been riding at Banbury Cross for two years and is about to enter sixth grade at Oakview Middle School in Lake Orion, agreed.
"I call it my happy place," she said. "Sometimes I just want to get away from school and dealing with some people."
Williams, who enjoys trotting on her horse Doodle Bug, visits Banbury Cross once a week for a one-hour session.
"She enjoys being around all of the kids here, making new friends," said her mother Renee. "Everybody here is just so friendly and welcoming. It is a great program for the kids. It makes them feel welcome and feel like they're a part of something. It makes them feel good about themselves. The horses are just an added bonus."
Williams is developmentally disabled and has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Renee said learning to ride horses has helped deal with both conditions by improving her daughter's ability to follow instructions and strengthening her muscle tone.
For Lanni, a second-grader at Clear Lake Elementary with Down syndrome, riding at Banbury Cross has helped him build muscular strength, increase his coordination and improve his temperament.
"It's done a lot physically and mentally for him," said his father Angelo.
Lanni visits Banbury Cross once a week.
"He loves the interaction with the horse and loves to ride," Angelo said. "He looks forward to it every week."
"It's a great program, great people," he added. "The volunteers do a tremendous job."
The positive changes in Maugherman, a sophomore at OHS who has autism, have been astounding since he began riding at Banbury Cross.
"It's unreal how much his confidence has increased," said his mother Nancy Payne-Butkis.
She explained that when her son first started there, he wouldn't make eye contact with people or talk to them.
Now, as Maugherman enters his fourth year at Banbury Cross, he's able to carry on conversations, he carries himself in a confident manner and the way he relates to both people and the horses has "really been impressive."
"I love the program," Payne-Butkis said. "The people are wonderful. The facility is great. And what (the students) learn is just amazing. I've told everybody I know about the program."
"It's fun," Maugherman said.
For more information about programs and volunteer opportunities at Banbury Cross, 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.