Funding to end for Modesto therapeutic riding classes

Lexi Frost, an 11-year-old Denair girl with autism and Down syndrome, has made great strides since she began riding horses with Kim Kent of Modesto's Care-ousel therapeutic riding program. The program caters to disabled children and young adults.

"It helps bring out the best in Lexi," said Marie Frost, her mother. "Since we switched to horseback riding, it's brought out things in her we didn't see before. She talks more. She sits up straight. It's an awesome opportunity."

But state budget cuts are about to crimp the progress of Lexi and dozens of others in the riding program, as well as those in music and art therapy courses. Of the 40 young riders at Care-ousel, 38 last week received letters from the state's Department of Developmental Services stating the funds for the program, administered locally through the Valley Mountain Regional Center, are being eliminated.

It's frustrating for parents who see their children thriving in the program, said Suze Black. Her son, 8-year-old Gavin Black, has Down syndrome and began riding six years ago. He receives encouragement from older twin brothers, Kris and Nic, 16, who often accompany him to the lessons.

"For 50 minutes a week, (Gavin) doesn't have a disability," Suze Black told Bee photographer Adm Golub. "He's just a kid on a horse."

Care-ousel is a labor of love for Kent, who began giving lessons when she was a senior at Beyer High and now commutes to Modesto from Idaho each week to run the program.

-- Jeff Jardine