Marion woman uses healing horses to get results

Stirrups 'N Strides gets riders back in saddle

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

CITRA, Fla. - Betty Gray, executive director of the Stirrups 'N Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, is this week's News 6 Getting Results Award winner. 

For nearly 40 years, Gray has dedicated her life to helping children and adults with disabilities.

Located north of Ocala in the tiny community of Orange Lake, Stirrups 'N Strides sits on 30 acres in the middle of what's often called the "Horse Capitol of the World."

Marion County has hundreds of thoroughbred farms and world class training facilities, but Gray says she see "miracles" happen every day on her farm.

"Miracles, that's exactly what we call it, miracles," she says, looking out over a corral. 

A handfull of riders, each with varying skills, circle the fence line.

"Their balance gets better, their cognitive issues get better and all of a sudden they're riding by themselves," she says.

Gray works with everyone from children with autism to adults in substance abuse rehabilitation centers. 

"I've had a rider with autism say his first word by saying hi to his horse," she says, describing the power of these animals. "What makes this work is to give our riders with disabilities a better life." she says. "The horses give you so much peace and they accept you the way you are. They know when they have our riders on them and they are just a different horse. They take care of our riders." 

The center provides horseback riding and carriage driving.

Gray has spent her life around horses, training, showing and judging Morgan Horses at shows. 

Her life changed in 1980 when her daughter, then 3 years old, was kicked by a horse. She helped start the first therapeutic horseback riding program in Marion County in 1983. 

"My daughter Kathy is what inspires me," she says. "When I saw what it did for Kathy I just wanted to help other people."

Julius Evans and his wife, Stacey, watch as their boys guide their horses through an obstacle course set up to challenge riders.

"Good job, Israel. Good job, Julius, good job. Ya'll (are) doing great," the proud father yelled out.

Evans credits the program for his sons progress with their speech.

"My oldest son hardly spoke," he says. "It's just marvelous, I'm lost for words."  

Gray was nominated by News 6 viewer Mary Luster.

"She's the first person I thought of." Luster says. "She has done so much for this community."

Gray says she's looking forward to expanding into a covered arena now under construction. The new facility will be used in the summer months and during bad weather. Fundraising is underway to complete the project.

For more information visit the Stirrups 'N Strides website.


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