Dick Hansen leads a horse slowly around a dusty arena. With silver hair and a gentle smile, he strokes its ear to calm it so that its rider, Emma Ashcraft, 7, who has cerebral palsy, can toss a ball into a target.
Emma smiles ear-to-ear, but just as importantly, the gentle rocking as she rides the horse widens her hips and strengthens her core and leg muscles. The exercise helps her walk better.
For a decade, Hansen has been volunteering with Ride To Walk, which provides horse therapy for young people with disabilities. He knows the stress a child's disability can bring and wants to make it easier for families to stay together. "I think of the parents 24-7 with these children," he said. "I can dedicate a few hours a week. They are so appreciative. We're helping them as well as the child."
Hansen, 78, a retired Air Force fighter pilot began volunteering for Ride To Walk with his wife Marilyn, after hearing about it at church. "Once I was here with her I was hooked on the help I was giving that I thought was worthwhile," he said. Seeing the progress of the children motivates him. He watches as horse therapy helps some children, who couldn't walk before, begin to walk assisted. They also gain self esteem as they stretch their abilities.
Hansen is kind yet modest as he talks about his volunteerism. Kris Corn, the founder of the program says he stands out because "he's really loyal. He has a heart not just for the children but for the families," she said.
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