Jonathan Hartman admits his 12-year-old son Alex has had his fair share of struggles so far in life.
Diagnosed a few years ago with epileptic seizures and cerebral palsy, Alex often has trouble sitting up on his own and holding his head up.
But put Alex on a horse, Johnathan said, and he’ll try to maneuver the reins while balancing himself in the saddle.
And that’s exactly what Alex did Saturday morning as he competed in the assisted riding category of the Howard County 4-H Fair horse and pony show.
For the past nine years, Alex has ridden with Russiaville-based EquiVenture Therapeutic Riding Inc., and Saturday marked his 4-H debut.
Russiaville resident Bonnie Flynn helped start EquiVenture in 1993, and she said the organization — which is completely free for families — has a pretty clear mission statement.
“We work with special needs children with therapy,” she told the Tribune minutes before Alex’s ride. “We are very repetitive in the way we give our lessons. It’s ‘One, two, three, walk’. One, two, three, wow. …As far as Alex is concerned, he developed a lot of core strength being on the horse. He can’t sit up on his own, but he’s much stronger than he once was. The transformation into this is quite incredible.
Due to his condition, there are four people assisting Alex on the horse at all times.
Two flank the side of the horse, one leads the horse, and the last sits in the saddle directly behind it.
And on Saturday, Jonathan joined them, occasionally smiling at his son and offering encouragement as the boy circled the arena.
“Any time you can see your child smiling and enjoying something…,” Johnathan said, his voice trailing off, “As a parent, any time you can make your child smile, it warms your heart. .. And I hope he gets the same feelings other kids get. This is Alex’s chance to step into the spotlight.
Alex’s mother, Christy, agreed with her husband, noting that she hoped others in attendance saw Alex in the arena on Saturday and felt inspired.
“It’s wonderful for him to be able to do things that anyone can do,” she said. “A lot of families might not even know about the program, so this is an opportunity for them to see this and learn what EquiVenture does for kids like Alex.”
Because at the end of the day, kids with special needs can do anything other kids can do, Jonathan noted, and their accomplishments should be celebrated too.
“Even if he doesn’t show on the horse that he likes it, I think it still makes him proud to show what he’s learned over all these years,” Johnathan added, referring to his son. “A lot of people here know me and Alex’s situation and are friends of the family, but a lot of them don’t see what it’s like on a daily basis. So I’m glad it finally gives them the opportunity to see Alex in action.