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ANN CONWAY

Riding Center Patrons Kick Up Support

August 25, 1987|ANN CONWAY

Ask attorney Dudley Wright if he gets teased about his name--"Don't people just love to call you Dudley Do-Right?"--and his eyes light up, he laughs, taps his pipe and confesses: "Yep. And sometimes they just call me Dud, the worst of all."

But ask Wright about the disabled children at the Orange County Riding Center and he gazes at some faraway vision, clears his throat, puffs on his pipe and recounts his "highly personal" reason for helping them learn to ride horses:

"I had a friend with a daughter who had Down's syndrome," Wright said at a party for Riding Center patrons Saturday night at the Newport Harbor Art Museum. "One day he came to me and said his daughter wanted to learn to ride. So, I took this sweet, 15-year-old child, taught her to ride one of my horses and found it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

"After a few years, the parents felt they were imposing on me--they weren't, it was wonderful--and asked if I could help them find a program for their daughter. Well, I found out about the Riding Center, and I've been involved ever since."

The San Juan Capistrano-based center offers therapeutic riding for children and adults, according to Fran Joswick, who founded it in 1979. "We started with one rider and four volunteers, and now we have 80 riders and 90 volunteers who give about 24,000 hours annually."

At Saturday's party, staged in the museum's leafy sculpture garden, 87 guests sipped white wine, nibbled at raspberry-glazed brie, strawberries, exotic cheeses, and beef and turkey sandwiches, and shared their reasons for becoming involved in the center.

For horse-trainer-turned-sculptor Celou Bonnet, who donated her bronze piece titled "Friends" for a center raffle, the reason was simple. Because she had loved horses all her life, she understood after a visit to the center that the animals gave the children "all they need to hear and feel."

"The children don't have to talk to the horses. That's what my sculpture on display in the museum garden represents. The child in the piece is looking at the horse and not even having to know how to speak. And the horse is saying 'trust me.' "

Center board member MacBell said horses, because of their size, help the disabled build self esteem: "They get up on a large horse and think if they can handle that, they are masters of the universe. They're sitting up there, and the horse is responding to their little commands. It's the ego builder of the world."

Kelly Wright, board member and wife of center volunteer veterinarian Kent Wright, stayed involved with the center after her college internship at the facility. Wright started out "walking around in the dirt three hours a week. But the students made me stay. I'd never been around anyone with a disability before. And the first time I led a child with Down's syndrome and turned around to see that smile on that face . . ."

Dudley Wright (no relation to Kent and Kelly Wright) added that riding a horse teaches children responsibility: "Kids learn that horses depend on them. I have five children of my own, and they all know which end of the shovel to pick up manure with. They never rode a horse they didn't feed or clean up after.

"Horses help to prepare children for life," he said. "And, there's a mystique between horses and children, especially girls, I can't describe."

There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 handicapped residents in Orange County, many of whom could benefit from horseback riding, Joswick said. The center has helped the deaf and the blind and those afflicted with functional brain impairment, spinal-chord injuries, autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and spina bifida.

Joswick said the center, which has seven horses, exists solely on private donations. Its budget for 1987 is $150,000, and Joswick said board members hope to raise much of it through the raffle.

The group has already sold about $10,000 worth of tickets at $10 each. Jockey Bill Shoemaker, who is a friend of Bonnet's, will draw the winning ticket at the center's annual barbecue Sept. 19 in San Juan Capistrano.

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