By Ron VandenBoom
Kathy Leeds, president of the board of directors of the Hi-Line Therapeutic Riding Association, said she was very surprised when she learned about the donation.
"I did a presentation for them," she said. "I've done many. But I was very surprised. I really hadn't anticipated that they would be that generous."
Leeds said that she was even more surprised to learn that they would take on the project as a continuing effort.
She is referring to a $500 donation given the association by the Bullhook Bottoms Barbershop Chorus and a promise of another $500 later this year.
"This is the most anyone has ever given," she said.
Jack Sturm, a member of the chorus' Board of Directors and also a member of the Riding Association, knew the chorus was looking for a service project and was the first to suggest that it might want to consider donating to the association.
The Hi-line Therapeutic Riding Association, or HILTRA, uses horses and horse riding to help treat 15 area children with physical, mental, or speech disabilities.
The organization currently consists of 45 volunteers, five therapists, and 10 to 12 horses. They offer their time and animals mostly at no cost to the association.
It is the movement of the horses that stimulates the act of walking that, according to Leeds, helps teach the children to walk.
"It simulates walking in a non-walking person," she said, explaining that not only the muscles are stimulated by the action of the horse, but mentally too there is a connection made between the movement of muscles and the act of walking.
Other surprising results have been obtained with children who have speech problems and other disabilities.
Why the horse riding therapy works is not entirely understood even by the experts but the results have been undeniable.
Leeds said that the money will be used for the purchase of equipment and supplies for the organization and some will go toward scholarships for children who need the therapy.
"No child will be turned away because they can't pay," Leeds said. "We see that as a high priority."
Leeds also said that some of the money will be saved for the purpose of eventually hiring a full-time director for the program.
As the program has grown in recent years, she explained, so have the demands on her time and the time of all the other volunteers. A full-time director would help ease the burden on the volunteers, give the organization a chance to apply for grant money, and generally allow the program to offer even more to the children in need.
Spaghetti dinners and other fund-raisers provide some money for the program, but the donation from the barbershop singers is a real boost.
The Barbershop Chorus will present an opportunity for the public to help the horse riders this fall when it presents its annual fall concert and fund-raiser.
Half of this year's concert, Sturm said, will be performed by the Montana Millennium Chorus a group of about 100 barbershoppers from all over Montana who will travel the state giving concerts and performing at fund-raisers.