Born with cerebral palsy, she has been going there since 1994, when she was 2. As SPURS celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, she looks back with many fond memories.
As a toddler, she would pet the horses. Her therapist would hold her on a horse’s back, where she put her arms out like an airplane. By the time she was 6, she could ride a horse, and by age 10 she could ride independently.
“This is home for me,” Westby said. “It is so much a part of my life.”
Last year SPURS served more than 200 people, including students from the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, special education students, developmentally disabled clients and others.
“What it does is expand and improve the life of an individual,” said Richard Hickman, executive director.
“Sitting on top of a horse, a person can perform nearly identically to those without a disability.”
Learning to ride a horse not only increases skills such as balance, coordination boosts self-esteem, he said.
“It increases pride and selfconfidence,” and concentration but also he said. “When a person partners with a large animal — has control of a 1,200-pound animal — that increases confidence,” he said.
SPURS, which stands for Special People Using Riding Skills, is northwest of Aberdeen on 40 acres. The facility has an indoor riding arena, outdoor arena, stables and main office building.
“We have had the same mission for 20 years, and we have grown through success,” said Hickman. “People see results.”
Not only does SPURS help riders, but it also benefits the volunteers who work with them. It gives them a chance to make a difference in someone’ life, he said.
Last year 2,200 volunteer hours were spent at SPURS helping riders, fundraising or doing other duties.
The organization was founded by Pat Bishop and her husband, Jim Bishop.
“This was Pat’s dream,” Hickman said. “As a child she would ride horses with her sister who had polio. It was the only time when they were the same.”
She started the program on her own land with her own horses, he said. After about three years fundraising efforts began to buy land and
There are 18 horses of many shapes and sizes at SPURS. The horses are donated, loaned or bought by the organization. Riders often become very attached to their horses.
Westby said her horse, Elsie, is her best friend.
“I joke with my mom that Elsie is my horse,” she said. “When she gets old is done working, she is coming home with me.”
On Wednesday mornings, students from the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired come out to SPURS. Michael McMillen, a student from Yankton, said he likes the horses. He enjoys riding, especially when he can ride outside. Kendra Terkildsen a student from White Lake, said “I love horses; they are my favorite animal.”
The main benefit of the program is the fun, she said.