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Special needs kids get leg up from healing horses

Special needs kids get leg up from healing horsesAn encounter in Harry Swimmer's local grocery store parking lot changed his life more than 20 years ago. He met a girl in a wheelchair named Stacy. She was deaf and nonverbal. Swimmer learned she had cerebral palsy. It gave him an idea. "I wondered what might happen if I put her on a horse," said Swimmer, who owns a farm near Charlotte, North Carolina.
 
Stacy and her grandmother visited his farm, where Swimmer helped her ride a pony.
 
"She just lit up like a candle," said Swimmer. "That's when I knew what I wanted to do."
 
Soon after, Swimmer retired from the insurance industry, and he and his wife turned their lucrative for-profit horse farm into a nonprofit oasis for children with special needs.
 
Now, at age 87, Swimmer and his organization, Mitey Riders, continue to provide free, certified equine-assisted therapy to young people with a range of disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and autism.
 
"Horses are very special animals," said Swimmer. "(They) are attuned to these children."
 
Since 1994, Swimmer's farmstead has hosted more than 800 children.