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Horseback riding offers hope for at-risk children

A bond between a horse and boy

Saddling up on the back of a horse is more than a pastime, it can be a refuge for those who don't feel like they fit in elsewhere. 

A boy named Fred Wright was considered an at-risk child growing up. Raised by a single mother, Wright struggled with behavioral issues and was forced to transfer schools several times. Ultimately he reached a breaking point.

"I was walking around with a lot on my shoulders," Wright told CNN. "I couldn't handle it."

But Wright got another chance when he met Patricia Kelly, a former Marine and an equestrian, who took the boy under her wing and helped him find hope somewhere he would never have suspected: on a horse. 

Horses give a second chance
"Fred was like a round peg everybody kept trying to squeeze into a square hole," Kelly told the source. "He was hurting. He needed a place he could express himself. The [riding] arena became that place for him."

Through her nonprofit, Ebony Horsewomen, Kelly has helped children in Hartford, Connecticut, connect with horses by teaching animal science to more than 300 young people a year. The former Marine hopes to give at-risk kids like Wright an alternative to the bad environments on the streets. 

"When you teach a child to ride a horse, they learn they are the center of their environment," Kelly, explained to CNN. "Once they make that connection, they can change what happens in school, at home and in the community."

Horse care overlaps with human care
Nature and animals have a innate healing power. In fact, equine therapy treats people with all kinds of mental and physical limitations. Horse therapy can strengthen bodies, improve communication and help people confront their fears, according to National Public Radio.

And for boys like Wright, it's even more than bonding with equine friends. There is a brotherhood that forms in the open fields, where some boys even get a chance to serve as park rangers with the Junior Mounted Patrol, tend to the barn and horses, take riding lessons and participate in wellness workshops. In certain cases, human health becomes intricately intertwined with equine health. 

Wright, now 17, said horseback riding has helped him turn his life around. He admits it assisted him in setting goals for himself, and he hopes to attend Cornell University after he graduates high school next year.