August 20, 1999
BY TONY BASSETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
WILLIAMS CENTER, O. - Five years ago, Shane Jeffreys lapsed into a month-long coma, the victim of a cruel sucker punch to the temple from a classmate at Paulding High School.
When he woke up, Shane had to learn to walk, talk, read, and write all over again.
Today, Shane, 21, has made a personal comeback. He's received his driver's license. He's majoring in corporate wellness at Defiance College. And he's rebuilding his motor skills in a special therapy program that matches eager clients with good-natured horses named Chance, Danny, Maple, and Reed.
Instructor Diane Timbrook guides Nikki Hughey, 7, of Mount Pilliard as she rides Danny.
"Up until my accident, I never rode a horse in my life, except for the little ponies at the fair when I was little,'' Shane said. "These horses are great. The program has helped me with my equilibrium and balance and trunk strength. Right now, if I'm walking without my cane, it feels like I'm falling forward. I'm hoping this helps change that.''
Called Ace Equestrian Therapy, the nonprofit program was created in 1992 to provide recreational and therapeutic horseback riding for northwest Ohio children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. After stops in St. Joseph, Ind., and Hicksville, the program landed three summers ago at Walnut Hills Farms on State Rt. 2 near the Defiance-Williams county line.
Diane Timbrook, an Ace board member and instructor, said horseback riding has been proven to be effective therapy in the treatment of several handicaps, including cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation, and serious accident injuries.
The program, which is associated and insured with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, provides activities that enhance mental and physical skills, aid in mobilization, promote communication and socialization, and build self-esteem and independence.
Ms. Timbrook said she got involved with Ace in 1993 when her daughter, Wendy, was a volunteer in the program. Ms. Timbrook, whose other daughter, Jennifer, currently volunteers in the program, recently quit her job in the veterinarian field to concentrate on expanding Ace.
"I had seen an ad in the paper for volunteers, but I was always working and didn't have time,'' Ms. Timbrook said. "There are just so many people around this area who don't know we're here and what we can do for people with special needs. Hopefully, we can change that.''
Ms. Timbrook, who recently moved to Wauseon from Hicksville, said Ace's $14,000 annual budget is funded solely through donations from local service organizations, businesses, and individuals. In addition to obtaining their own liability insurance, program participants pay $5 an hour. That money is used to offset the $500 monthly boarding fee for the four horses and to pay Ms. Timbrook and another instructor, Pat Strouse of Edgerton, $10 an hour.
Dan Hook, 27, of Harlan, Ind., said the program has helped relieve tight muscles and nerves associated with cerebral palsy. Dan rides in Ace at least once a week, often stretching his hips, back, legs, and arms. Riding horses gives Dan a good sense of walking, which many people with cerebral palsy have trouble doing.
"People and horses basically have the same rhythm when they walk. This gives me a pretty good readout of how walking should be,'' Dan said. "I never really had a steady program like this. You get a lot of one-on-one, personal relationship with the horses and the people who are working with you.''
Laura Hughley of Montpelier said Ace has helped her daughter, Nikki, 7, the past three years, especially with her back. Nikki, an orange belt in karate who has cerebral palsy, is particularly fond of Reed, a gentle brown quarter horse. She said the first time she rode Reed "it was like a bowl of Jell-O,'' referring to her clumsiness on the horse. Now she rides with ease, mom at her side, exercising her arms as Reed trots along the farm.
"Reed is her horse. They get along so well. He just seems to know what she likes and what she is doing,'' Ms. Timbrook said.
Ms. Timbrook said she would like to expand Ace but lacks the funding. She said she is investigating whether the program can qualify for state or federal grants, but she could use some help because it's a complex process.
"We couldn't run the program without volunteers,'' she said. "I got
involved because I love to help people, and I love working with horses.''