“Emily has moderate learning disabilities, along with speech and language delays, and motor/sensory dysfunction,” said Emily’s mother, Miranda Winters. “She has been in speech, physical therapy and occupational therapy since she was 10 months old.
“She has been riding for three years, once a week. Therapeutic riding has done more for her in three years, than all the other therapies combined for 15 years. When she is riding, it’s as if her disabilities melt away. She is confident and fearless. My favorite thing is the way she smiles when she learns a new skill.”
Saying horses make her “feel happy,” Emily is proud of her equestrian accomplishments, especially capturing four medals at the Special Olympics’ State Horse Show.
“I love Miss Kristen,” Emily said, referring to her therapeutic riding instructor, Kristen Moreland. “She teaches me how to be a good rider. ... I want more people to know about Miss Kristen and horse therapy. Kids with special needs should have a chance to ride like me.”
Competing in the State Horse Show in October, Emily impressed the judges with her skills in the Dressage, English Equitation, Showmanship and Trail classes, winning three silver medals and one bronze accolade.
“We always attend every practice and every competition as a family — she has nine brothers and sisters,” Winters said. “We are constantly amazed by her quiet confidence as she competes. We love watching her win medals, but it is more about the whole experience for all of us. She has a winning attitude and that makes us very proud.
“Beyond Limits is true to their name. Kristen, her coach, pushes Emily to try new things and step outside her comfort zone. We never dreamed that these lessons would take her so far beyond what we thought she was capable of.”
In Gainesville, Emily and 15 other Beyond Limits athletes participated in the Special Olympics’ equestrian contests, netting more than 40 medals for the Bartow County nonprofit.
“We are constantly pushing them to go beyond whatever limits the world has told them would be impossible to even dream,” Moreland said. “Our tag line, ‘Got Limits? Go Beyond!’ stresses the importance that we all have some struggle that holds us back from achieving a certain goal, but through perseverance and surrounding yourself with encouraging people, nothing can hold you back from personal success. ... At the [Special Olympics’ State Horse] Show there were over 250 competitors from all over the state, ranging in ages — 8 to senior adults.
“Riders compete throughout the weekend in up to five different classes varying from Dressage, Showmanship, English Equitation, Western Horsemanship, Western Riding, Trail, and the always fun and colorful Unified Drill. We had riders represented in all of these classes in the intermediate and advanced levels. We are proud to be able to compete in such an amazing event every year and are happy to say all the Beyond Limits riders came home draped in medals and ribbons. This event is huge, and busy and long; so to see these often timid, shy kids come out of their shell and rock it in the arena is amazing.”
She continued, “Witnessing them walk up the steps to the podium to receive their award is one of the most heartwarming things you can ever experience. The untainted joy and exuberance that comes from months of hard work paying off is incredible to any athlete in the world, but especially ours. They overcome the odds just by showing up and by their perseverance day in and day out. There is nothing like it. As a team, the Beyond Limits riders brought home a total of 12 gold medals, 22 silver, 13 bronze, three fourth and two fifth place ribbons — a total of 47 medals.”
Conducting therapeutic riding lessons at Watkins Farm in Cartersville, Beyond Limits — a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International — serves special needs children and adults residing in Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Floyd and Paulding counties. Currently, the nonprofit is providing lessons to nearly 40 riders, experiencing a variety of health diagnoses, such as autism, cerebral palsy, depression and anxiety, seizure disorder and blindness.
“[Beyond Limits] opened our doors on Nov. 1, 2013,” said Dr. Kimberly Oviedo, the organization’s founder and executive director. “We have grown from two riders and one horse to a program serving 38 special needs children and adults. Our herd has developed into six horses of varying degrees of skills, sizes and types of movement. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life of our participants through exercise, socialization, quality instruction and, of course, the natural bond between horse and rider, all while giving our participants fun and adventure on horseback.
“For people with a disability, especially children, it is often difficult to be included in team sports, mainstreamed classrooms, obtaining an education and just overall feeling included. Let’s face it, these are all challenges we see even when there is not a disability involved. We opened BLTR so that we can help everyone who comes through our program, whether they are a rider or a volunteer. We want them to feel that they fit in, to gain confidence, improve physical abilities, gain friendships and to be challenged to push beyond any perceived limits they have. Through the magic of horses, we are able to accomplish this.”
In addition to calling 770-917-5737, more information can be obtained about Beyond Limits by visiting www.beyondlimitsriding.org.