People with disabilities learn, shine on horseback at SWFL ranch

At one Buckingham ranch, children struggling to walk can ride like the wind.

Meet Mia Kruger and her four-legged friend, Pumpkin. The horse is helping her learn a bit differently than other 10-year-old girls because Kruger was born with Down syndrome.

“There was initially tears and begging for God to take Down syndrome away,” said Mia’s father, Dawie. “We just wanted Mia to be our baby without a label, a diagnosis…We had questions, of course, like, ‘Why us? Why her?’ And ‘How are we gonna do this from now on?'”

Her only label at the ranch is “rider” and Dawie says weekly riding sessions help his daughter shine.

“She’s become physically stronger, she sits longer and longer each week without getting tired, she can walk longer distances, she’s overall just happier, doing better at school and her anxiety is real low versus what it used to be,” he said. “This has been much better than any physical therapy we’ve been able to be a part of.”

Providing people with disabilities this type of therapy is why Jan Fifer has volunteered for decades now at Special Equestrians.

“Since 1999 when I used to own a horse boarding stable in South Fort Myers and when I sold the boarding stable, I wanted to do something a little different in the community and have a background in special education and I loved horses and kids so started volunteering at Special Equestrians in 1999,” she said.

Now, she directs the nonprofit that can’t currently host group sessions, so they parade their 13 horses past participants with signs of support saying, “We miss you,” “We love you” and “We can’t wait to see you again.”

Because this bond between rider and animal can’t be broken by COVID-19.

“Horses heal humans, I’d say, where medicine cannot really reach. They speak to and for those who may not have a voice,” Kruger said.

Reaching our more vulnerable neighbors so they can ride on.

This Sunday’s “Taste of Love” auction benefits that nonprofit and anyone can bid on items including Major League Baseball tickets. The program and live auction will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

To participate in the program and live auction, click here.

To participate in the silent auction, click here.

Reporter:Melinda Lee
Writer:Briana Harvath
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