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Kiwanis Horses for Handicapped helps participants rein in obstacles

Horses Human Health: Kiwanis Horses for Handicapped

SEMINOLE — Katie Mazgaj sat tall atop her horse, Dexter, giving a slight tug on the reins to weave among a series of tightly placed cones.

After that, one of the most challenging feats of the day’s competition: dressage, a precise series of controlled movements across an open court with no defined track, only verbal cues from her coach.

The maneuvers took intense concentration, but the 16-year-old appeared calm, in command, from start to finish.

“She did it,” cried her twin sister, Nina, who ran to hug Katie at the gate the moment she dismounted.

Years ago, before they began riding at Kiwanis Horses for Handicapped stable in Seminole, the girls were frightened at the sight of a cow, mother Jenny Mazgaj said.

The twins, born in Bulgaria, struggled with post-institutionalized stress, and the effects of autism made them anxious, especially in social situations.

Interacting with these gentle horses, as well as the steps of combing their mane, mounting the saddle and chatting with other riders and trainers, has made a world of difference for the girls.

“Confidence, friendships and obviously it’s the physical exercise,” said Mazgaj, a board member of the nonprofit group that serves kids and adults with disabilities.

On a bad day, a ride can create an almost immediate change in the girls. There’s almost something spiritual about their connection with these horses, she said.

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