Hilty Child Care and Memorial Home Saddle Up

            From the outside, living in a memorial home can seem like a place for slowing down in life and taking it easy. But really, it’s a lot of horsing around.

            On October 13th, five residents of Hilty Memorial Home in Pandora and 43 children from the Child Care Center within Hilty visited the Challenged Champions Equestrian Center in Ottawa for the opportunity to take a nature walk along the Blanchard River, paint pumpkins and experience a therapeutic horseback ride.

            The center was established in 1997 to serve the local community as a place to support those of all ages with special needs in their physical, emotional and mental development. The sessions were first held at the Putnam County Fairgrounds, but in 1998, the Center expanded to the University of Findlay western farm location in order to serve more clients. As the popularity of the program grew even more, a new location was needed, so in 1999, the trained personnel, community volunteers and horses of Challenged Champions found its place at the home of Gary and Laura Luginbill, where it is still located in Ottawa.

            Shelly Brough, the daughter of the Luginbill’s, is a registered nurse at Hilty Memorial Home, and through her connection, the residents and children of Hilty got the opportunity of a lifetime.

            “We always promote inter-generational activities. The residents benefit from it so much,” said Stephanie Theis, admissions coordinator. “We’re glad that Challenged Champions was gracious enough to donate their time and facilities.”

            From children as young as 2 years old, to 93-year-old adults, the near century-difference in age gap didn’t put a gap in the fun.

The young-at-heart residents watched the young-in-age preschool children take their first horseback rides. Some children were overwhelmed with excitement as they were led around cones and took a lap through the horse barn, while others with frozen faces of terror were just ready to get down already. But as the residents gazed upon the children creating memorable experiences, they couldn’t help but reflect on their own childhood memories.

            “I remember that people used to ride the horses for exercise,” said Lucille Harris, 92.

            Lucille walked up to the crème-colored horse and calmly petted the tip of its nose. She smiled as the horse gracefully lowered his head to allow Lucille more room to touch. Lucille didn’t ride that day, but just feeling the horse made her face light up in the same way as if she had sat on his back.

            Though her encounter reminded Lucille of her experiences with real, live horses in her past, to another resident, seeing the animal sparked memories of horses of a less-lively variety.

            “I’ve done about everything in my life,” said Herbert Reichenbach, 88. “I was a carpenter . . . I used to build hobby horses for children. It only took a few days to build. The kids would ride them around for fun.”

            Herbert also said his family used to keep horses on their farm, and told a story about how he sold one of his brother’s horses, without asking, while his brother was away in the army.

            “Boy was he mad when he got home,” Herbert said with a grin on his face.

            Herbert, like Lucille and the other residents, also decided that his riding days were over and just stuck to watching the horses trot from off to the side. However, there was one brave resident who wanted to be more than a spectator. She wanted to ride.

            “I didn’t realize I was going to do this today,” said Mary Jane Lugibihl, 93.

            When Mary Jane was younger, she used to ride horses on her family’s farm. She told a story of one particular horse her father called “Birdie Fly”.

            “You could hear him when he was out working in the field. You could hear him yell, ‘Birdie, fly!’” she said with a smile as the memory of her father’s voice rewound in her mind.

            Since being a girl on the farm, she admits that it has “been a while” since she’s been on a horse, but with helmet on and conquering confidence on her side, Mary Jane walked the steps of the platform to mount the large, spotted animal. She threw her leg over, adjusted her weight in the saddle and gripped the reigns. She was ready.

            Led by staff from Challenged Champions, Mary Jane showed the young children how its done by an experienced rider. Her posture and technique atop of the animal were so precise that she made it seem as if she’s been riding every day of her life.  

            When her final lap was over, the staff helped her off the horse. Mary Jane stepped her toes back onto the dirt of the horse barn, smiled and simply said, “That was fun.”

             After walking back towards where the residents were sitting, a little taller than before, Mary Jane added, “It felt good bouncing around out there.”

            Riding a horse is impressive at any age, but at 93 years old, it crosses over into the realm of remarkable. Mary Jane’s advice for anyone who wants to accomplish such an incredible feat is, candidly, “Just keep a-goin.”

            In her lifetime, Mary Jane was also a staff sergeant at Wright Field in Dayton during World War II and learned to fly a plane from her instructor brother. After riding a horse, could Hilty be seeing Mary Jane back in the pilot seat?

            “Maybe I’ll try that next,” she said, laughing.

            For more information about Challenged Champions, visit their website at www.challengedchampions.com.