Source: Sherman Publications

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Riding to national success

by Phil Custodio

January 02, 2013

Sergey Douglas, Sarrah Palmer, Andrew Paquette, and Savannah Rovelli went to the American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City, MO, as O.A.T.S. riders.

They came home as "The Fearsome Foursome."

"They all placed in the top 10 for their division, and Sarrah won Overall National Reserve Champion," said Nancy Lee Heussner, O.A.T.S. founder.

"Riding is fun I'm good at it," said Palmer of Oxford, who competed with her horse, Benny, and the team last November in the United Professional Horsemen's Association Exceptional Challenge Cup.

About 120 riders per week from five counties go to O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles.

Working with the horses, they learn to become independent riders, build muscles, develop balance and coordination, and receive other benefits, said Nancy Lee Heussner, who founded the non-profit organization in 1997.

"The horses are phenomenal they're calm and they want to work," Heussner said.

"It's changed my mobility," said Melissa Sturgis of Clarkston, 41, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 27 and joined O.A.T.S. for riding therapy last March. "I was riding an Amiga scooter at one time."

Now she is a volunteer, helping out three days a week to maintain the arenas and run therapy programs.

"It helps people with autism, those who are nonverbal, when they have to speak to the horses, helps stimulate a walking gait, and builds camaraderie," she said. "It's awesome."

The center is planning Horses for Heroes, a new program with Wounded Warriors. The eight-week program for wounded veterans starts March 12, at no cost to the vets. They are also looking for veterans to volunteer, with training starting this month.

For more information, call O.A.T.S., 3090 Weidemann Drive, at 248-620-1775 or check