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  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Xander Whitely, 5, rides Biscuit while Allison Wheaton, center, and Melissa Hasch work with him, his brother Aidan, 7, and sister Lizzie, 3, during a riding session at Summit Equestrian Center. The center provides therapy for children with learning disabilities

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 2:34 am

Horses help kids emerge from shells

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

On a warm summer day, the Whitely family arrives at the Summit Equestrian Center, a 7-acre expanse tucked into the La Cabreah housing subdivision off Dupont Road. They are ready to ride and grow stronger and healthier at the same time.

Aidan, 7, the big brother, has hypotonia, making it difficult for him to walk and speak. But he has made great strides and his mother, Rachel, credits the guidance from Allison Wheaton, executive director, with his progress.

"I don’t think we could have gotten where we’re at without this place," Whitely said.

Aidan, his younger brother Xander, 5, who is autistic and sister, Lizzie, 3, mount their horses, Lola, Biscuit and Lucy and ride them while Wheaton cheerily sends them on tasks like delivering a ring to a post or a mailbox. Aidan hoists himself up for a 2-point position, the English jumping position, and holds it with no problem at all.

Wheaton has a steady stream of children and adults with learning disabilities visiting her stables for rides and equine therapy. Others seeking therapy may have mental illness, she said. On staff are physical and mental health therapists. The practice has been built through word of mouth in the five years since Wheaton arrived. Her students range from 3 years to their 60s.

Cheryl Hoium brings Sonya, 12, to treat her dyslexia. "This has been the best therapy," Hoium said. Learning to ride a horse helps her daughter with vestibular or balance issues and in turn, helps the brain to develop. Controlling a horse has led to self-control, learning boundaries, empathy and confidence, she said.

Besides the nine full-sized horses, there are two miniature horses and a miniature donkey. There is a duck waddling around to greet the visitors and doesn’t mind at all when she’s petted. One sweet little dwarf miniature horse named Winnie walks on deformed feet as though nothing were wrong. "She’s been our mascot," Wheaton said. Two rescue dogs round out the menagerie.

A member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, the center offers therapy through private pay and a wide variety of social and health organizations that offer scholarships, Wheaton said.

"The neatest thing for me is to watch kids gain confidence," Wheaton said. Kids who are not willing to speak to others are now "telling people about their favorite horse and why. Now they’re on their horses and showing off and that’s pretty neat."


• Joe Morman, of Monroeville, has been awarded a $1,500 scholarship from America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders, a program sponsored by the Monsanto Fund. Morman is studying agribusiness with a concentration in commodity marketing at Purdue University.

Grow Ag Leaders scholarships, administered by the national FFA organization, are available to high school seniors and college students pursuing degrees in ag-related fields. To be considered, each applicant is required to receive endorsements from at least three local farmers. For more information, go to


• Ivy Tech Community College Northeast is offering a weeklong STEM camp for 11- to 14-year-olds from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 20 to 24. The camp provides a range of science, technology, engineering, and math activities, including exploring Allen County nature preserves, programming robots, studying the chemistry of food and touring local technology businesses. Cost is $149. This covers a T-shirt, lunch, snacks, supplies, and field trips. Need-based scholarships are available for students on a competitive basis. Contact Provi Mayo at 480-2070 or for further details or to schedule a time to stop by the camp for photo or interview opportunities.

• Pine Hill Country Day School is expanding to include a primary section as well as its preschool and kindergarten programs. For more information, call 482- 1743 or 483-2959.

Huntington University

• Del Doughty, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of English, has been appointed to the literature panel of the Indiana Arts Commission for 2015. As a part of his duties, he will be reviewing grant applications for writers from around the state. He received a literature grant from the arts commission in 2001, and he is now serving on the literature review panel for the fifth time.


• IPFW has announced that Melissa Eastman is the new assistant director of alumni relations. Eastman has worked as the acting director of alumni relations for the past several months at the University of Saint Francis.

Students and parents who have a favorite teacher can nominate the individual for Teacher Honor Roll. Send nominations to The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne IN 46802; fax 461-8893 or email

To submit an item, send a typed release from the school or organization to Education Notebook, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne IN 46802-0088; fax 461-8893 or email at least two weeks before the desired publication date.