Representatives from Southern Pioneer Electric and CoBank, Southern Pioneer’s lender, present checks to the Crossroads Center Wednesday evening amounting to nearly $15,000 along with two new saddles specially designed for special needs riders.
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Just about eight miles or so east of Liberal on Bluebell Road lies Crossroads Center, an organization that provides therapeutic horse riding and hippo therapy for children with special physical needs.
Until recently, youngsters needed to be accompanied by another person on the horse to insure the kid’s safety. Thanks to a donation from a local utility company, those children can now ride the horse on their own.
Wednesday night, Southern Pioneer’s HUGS, or Helping Us Give to Society, team made a special donation.
The team commissioned the making of two saddles specifically designed for riders with special needs.
Crossroads co-founder Joe Denoyer said while the donation was made Wednesday, work on the project actually began last year when he talked to representatives from Southern Pioneer at the dinosaur exhibit the company sponsored at Liberal’s Mid-America Air Museum.
“We were talking about the HUGS program and the money that they had available for groups to help individuals in surrounding communities that they service,” he said. “We got to talking about Crossroads.”
Denoyer put the Southern Pioneer officials in touch with fellow Crossroads co-founder Rena Cross. He said a need for the organization was a high-backed handicap saddle, which Southern Pioneer presented at the Ronnie Delay Arena Wednesday evening.
Therapeutic riding and hippo therapy are not cheap, but Crossroads has been able to provide them free to their students over the years, thanks to generous donors.
Denoyer said the new saddle eliminates the need for a back rider, and Crossroads received the saddles absolutely free when Southern Pioneer and Pioneer Electric agreed to pay for two of the items.
“At their board meeting, they called Rena and said ‘How bout two?’” he said. “We’ve got two handicap saddles now courtesy of the HUGS program.”
Wednesday, Southern Pioneer presented a check for about $9,300 for the saddles, but Denoyer said the story did not stop there.
“At around Christmas time, CoBank, which Southern Pioneer and Pioneer Electric uses, has a foundation also,” he said.
Denoyer said he was contacted by Anita Wendt, vice president of energy services for Pioneer Electric Cooperative and Southern Pioneer Electric Company, who wanted to know if it would be OK if she could submit Crossroads name to the CoBank foundation.
“I said you bet,” Denoyer said.
Because of that submission, Wednesday night, Crossroads received another check from CoBank in the amount of $5,000, and that check had been kept a secret from Cross until Wednesday.
“It’s just been a good evening,” Denoyer said. “We want to thank the HUGS program, Southern Pioneer and Pioneer Electric for considering this program as one of their HUGS choices.”
Upon receiving the additional money from CoBank, Cross said she was floored.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t even know why I was still standing,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when they said they had more.”
Denoyer explained the features of the new saddle.
“It is a child’s saddle, but it has a built in back that goes the length up his back,” he said. “It has a strap around it where he can be strapped up into the saddle. In previous times, we had to have somebody ride behind just to keep them stable and steady. Now, with this saddle that would free up a volunteer, we wouldn’t need a back rider, but we would be able to put them in the saddle, strap them in and free up a volunteer. They could feel like they were actually riding the horse on their own as opposed to somebody holding them while they were riding.”
Denoyer added that mentally, the new saddles will make a huge difference.
“It will give the child the freedom to feel like they are actually in control of the horse,” he said. “As far as physically, the gait of a horse mimicks the gate of a human being. The theory behind Crossroads and the horse riding is to create stimulation in the nerve endings of the spine. That was a little bit hindered with the back rider, but they will be able to get the full effect of therapy now.”
One of the two saddles is an 18-inch saddle for adults, and Denoyer said one person with multiple sclerosis is using that saddle. He said because of the nature of MS, that person could not fit into a regular saddle.
“That’s a great addition as well,” he said. “For me personally being involved in Crossroads for the last 15 years, this is something that we’ve talked about. We’ve dreamed about, we’ve looked at ways. We’ve thought about trying to build something on our own. We just weren’t confident enough that we could do it and maintain the safety that we needed for the riders. Finding the maker of this saddle and getting one that insures safety, for me, it’s a dream come true. It’s something we’ve been looking for.”
Wendt said the HUGS program was formed about three years ago as a strategic initiative of Southern Pioneer’s board.
“It was to take recycled materials from the utility,” she said. “That could be anything – wires, transformers, anything that we can recycle from our lines and be able to set those moneys aside and be able to use those for benevolent acts in our communities. Those moneys can be applied for by an application that’s on our company Web site and are given out to groups and organizations that can really make a difference in our communities. It’s amazing sometimes that you can turn some scrap metal into a good work.”