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Therapeutic riding event introduces horses to amputees

Staff Photo: John Bohn Samantha Fraser, 8, of Dunwoody, removes her riding helmet after riding Pretty, a quarter horse, as McKeever's First Ride Atlanta offers therapeutic rides to disabled people at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Samantha Fraser, 8, of Dunwoody, removes her riding helmet after riding Pretty, a quarter horse, as McKeever's First Ride Atlanta offers therapeutic rides to disabled people at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Samantha Fraser, 8, of Dunwoody, prepares to mount Pretty, a quarter horse as McKeever's First Ride Atlanta offers therapeutic rides to disabled people at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Samantha Fraser, 8, of Dunwoody, prepares to ride Pretty, a quarter horse, as McKeever's First Ride Atlanta offers therapeutic rides to disabled people at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday. Assisting Fraser are Elizabeth Dabney, left, Kathy Darnell, second from left, and Janet Lombardo.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When Memphis Lafferty arrived at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Saturday, he swore he would not ride a horse.

But a friend promised she would ride if he did, so the 6-year-old started up a ramp to ride "Pretty," a patient brown mare.

Memphis, though, wasn't convinced. He wanted his Dad by his side, and even after he made it atop the steed, he clutched onto the saddle horn.

Kathy Darnell held on to the little boy, promising him nothing would happen to him, as Pretty took one step, only to be stopped with a quick "Whoa" from Memphis.

Minutes later, he was ready, and after one lap, he was sitting up in the saddle, holding the reins in the crook of his elbow. After the second lap, he let out a "Yee-haw." After the third lap, he told his dad he didn't need him anymore.

And the smile on the quadruple amputee's face was enough to bring Darnell to tears after his inspiring ride.

"This is why I love doing what I do," said Darnell, a certified therapeutic riding instructor. "He's had a rough time. For him to be able to trust and know he is in control and he can say whoa ... It's such a blessing to watch that."

On Saturday about 300 people -- amputees and their families -- participated in McKeever's First Ride, an annual free event held for the first time in Gwinnett to introduce therapeutic riding.

Memphis's dad Christopher Lafferty said he wanted his son to get the same experience as any other kid.

"He's a normal child. ... I don't raise him any different," Lafferty said of the boy, who lost his limbs when he contracted bacterial meningitis when he was 6-months-old. "I thought it would be fun for him to learn how to ride."

Trinity Marrier, a 7-year-old North Carolina girl who was born with a missing left foot and ankle, rode the horses several times, and she loved the roping and grooming stations.

"It's just been a wonderful day," Karen Marrier said of the event, which brought together several doctors and other staffers along with families the Marriers know from the hospital. "She rode every horse on the property."

Janet Lombardo, the manager of the orthodics and prosthetics department at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, coordinated the event.

"What we try to emphasize here is very much a can-do spirit," Lombardo said. "The participants find themselves doing things they have never done before. ... Animal therapy has been well documented."