Blue Rider Stables to mark 25 years of therapeutic riding

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Photo Gallery | Blue Rider Stables celebrates 25th anniversary

EGREMONT — At 18 months, Lila Bergman Hoechster wouldn't eat.

Her parents tried all sorts of ways to help, but could not get their daughter the sustenance she needed. A feeding tube became a last resort, but the girl's mother, Stephanie Bergman, knew she needed to find a way to jump-start Lila eating on her own.

So she put her daughter — and herself — on a horse.

Bergman heard about Blue Rider Stables and decided to give it a try. At first, Lila cried. Then, as she grew more comfortable, she began eating small snacks while riding inside the barn.

More than three years later, Lila is a typical 5-year-old who eats regularly.

"I think the motion of the horse made the difference," she said.

"The horse simulates walking that moves the intestines," said Christine Sierau, lead instructor and executive director at Blue Rider Stables.

Lila is one of hundreds of success stories Blue Rider has produced in the past 25 years and on Saturday, the staff, volunteers, supporters and alum will gather for a silver anniversary celebration at Chesterwood in Stockbridge.

The gala, "A Horse of a Different Color," will feature live and silent auctions, music, dancing, local artisan foods and signature drinks throughout the studio grounds of American Sculptor Daniel Chester French.

Formed in 1991, Blue Rider Stables offers year-round therapeutic horseback riding, basic safe riding, riding without fear, vaulting, horse care, stable management, summer programs and other activities on Farm Lane in South Egremont.

The organization currently operates with a $436,250 budget funded through private donations and membership fees.

Unlike other riding programs, Blue Rider keeps its horses in a herd — not individual stalls.

Currently 14 horses and three donkeys ranging in age from 9 to 29 years call 15 Farm Lane home. The community can sponsor one of the gentle four-legged creatures to help defray the cost of feeding, housing and medical care they require.

Rachel Tarnauskas, 33, of Great Barrington, rode at Blue Rider as a child and now her daughter has followed in her mother's footsteps.

"There's something about this place always pulls you back," she said.

Another repeat customer, Anne Fribourg, has been a Blue Rider stalwart for 20 years and credits Sierau with making her a better rider.

"If you are not in balance, the horse has to overcompensate," she said. "Christine gets me to use my body correctly."

Eventually, it comes down to the bond between horse and rider.

"These horses know which person needs what help," Sierau said. "We're more mediators than instructors."

When Julie Schwindt first brought James to the stables 18 months ago, she noticed the boy's immediate thrill at meeting George, a donkey.

"There was an instant connection with George ... there was an excitement," said Schwindt, a Winsted, Conn., woman who helps care for James and asked that his last name be withheld. "He was the smallest person on the biggest [donkey]."

Now 3, the boy is starting to overcome the developmental challenges he's facing, thanks to riding.

"He's really coming into his own; it really empowers him," Schwindt said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

If you go ...

What: Horse of a Different Color, a 25th anniversary gala for Blue Rider Stables

When: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Chesterwood, 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge

Tickets: Go to bluerider.org or call (413) 528-5299


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