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Hippotherapy to Barrel Races: Horses Make A Difference


By Leigh Ballard
As a baby, Shelby Winstead started to show signs of developmental problems. At six months of age, her parents, Kim and Bobby Winstead, noticed some abnormal things happening with her eyes and other signs of neurological problems.  Shelby was whisked off to the doctor and was eventually diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay. Thus began a long and arduous span of years of doctor’s appointments, specialists, and therapies. The doctors told Kim her baby girl’s speech and physical development would be poor; she would probably never ride a bike.

Contrary to predictions, at age five Shelby did ride a bike. And at age nine, Kim put her on a horse. But about this time Kim became frustrated and felt there was just too little progress with all therapies and appointments. “I was done with doctors and therapists. I wanted Shelby to be a part of something, to have something productive to do. I got her the most laid-back pleasure horse I could find. He was a big black horse by Mito’s Commander named My Toes Black Son. He was a godsend! He packed her around and did whatever she wanted to do. I started taking her to saddle club shows, where she rode in walk trot classes and then youth pleasure classes.”

Kim had a background in showing hunter/ jumpers and had a couple of retired horses “in the  backyard,” so she put Shelby’s horse with them and set about teaching Shelby everything she could about riding and horse care. From the start, Shelby was responsible for her horse. She did all the feeding, grooming, tacking up, and so forth. Kim gave her riding lessons, and then some patient and wonderful trainers began teaching her.

At age eleven, Shelby noticed the barrel racers at a show and said, “Cool! That’s what I want to do!” Kim took her to a friend who let her ride a twenty-something-year-old barrel horse. He was gentle, still pretty fast, and he knew his job. Of course, Kim was nervous, but the horse took Shelby around the barrels safely. Shelby was hooked! And her father Bobby was the big encourager, “Let her do it, let her go for it!” he told Kim.

In 2005 they found a suitable horse, Coppertone Cache, or CC. She was eleven, the same age as Shelby. A friend called Kim and said, “I’m telling you now. You need this horse.” Kim rode her, and they decided to buy her. Kim says, “Talk about a blessing! We will have CC until she dies!”

Shelby started learning to ride her, first learning to lope around the barrels, and then she got faster and faster. Eventually she was running barrels at saddle club shows. And then she was winning! In her second barrel racing year she joined the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA). In 2007 she qualified for the Youth World Teen Division for Tennessee District 5 (TN-05) on CC. She did it again the next year on two horses!

Shelby was running in 4-D on CC, then she decided to step up. Again, Kim had a friend who knew the right horse for Shelby. They bought him sight unseen and shipped him from Nebraska. When Bo arrived, Kim rode him first and found that he was fast. But after Shelby adjusted to his speed, she started winning on him, too. In 2008she qualified both horses again for youth world and open world in NBHA.

In 2009 she won the open 3-D for TN-05, qualified again for Youth World and Open World, and was Reserve District Champion 2-D in the International Barrel Horse Association (IBRA). She went to IBRA finals as a top dog competitor, and was a finalist in the All American Youth barrel race.

In 2010 she again won open 3-D for TN-05 NBHA, and qualified again for Youth World and Open World. The next year the Winsteads purchased another horse with the intent of retiring CC.

Shelby’s success continues on Bo and another new horse, Truck. She qualified again in 2011 for Open and Youth World, and was the Reserve Open 3-D TN-05 Champion. 

A couple of years ago Kim took Shelby to a Martha Josey clinic in Texas to further their education in barrel racing. “Of course, I was terrified putting her in that environment! The instruction is top notch and demanding; the riders are high caliber. But you know what - she did a great job! She was so serious and focused! The trainer took me aside and told me what a great job she was doing. He told me stop worrying and just leave her alone!” So Kim learned all she could from the Josey clinic and used it to help Shelby progress. Shelby also received training on barrels from some high quality local trainers. Shelby never gives up!

Because of horses, Shelby was able to be a socially active, typical teen. The barrel horse crowd embraced her and encouraged her. “Horses let her blossom, instead of live under labels,”Kim says. “We quit the doctors and the therapies completely. We had to make a choice, and that was the better choice for her. The horses were taking care of her needs.” Kim knows horses are unpredictable, and she has rejected a few prospects. But, even if it’s not with horses, Kim’s message is that parents should take chances, in whatever path is right for their child. “My husband pushed me; he didn’t let me hold her back. He encouraged us both. And truly, we were especially blessed to have had the special horses we’ve had. ”

Kim looks at her and Bobby’s decision to give Shelby the gift of horses as pure serendipity. She didn’t know anything about hippotherapy. At the time, she didn’t know that therapists have discovered how to incorporate physical therapy and speech therapy and occupational therapy with riding horses. But now she says, “Hippotherapy is an amazing thing! A lot of the kids with developmental issues have a problem with crossing their midline. Occupational therapists are constantly presenting exercises to cross the midline and use the limbs independently. Shelby does that all the time with her reins or grabbing the saddle horn. Her riding accomplishes the same thing that the therapists tried to do for her.”

Shelby attended Concord Academy, a private, special needs school for grades 6-12 in Memphis, TN where she received a “regular” diploma. Kim has high praises for the school, which focuses on nurturing each student’s abilities and working with their strengths. Kim is sure that most of the students there would benefit from a hippotherapy program if only it were available. “The physical and cognitive benefits are notable,” she says. “I can tell a difference in Shelby’s speech when she hasn’t ridden in a while. She’s just neurologically not as sharp, and also her motor skills and muscle tone are different.”

Shelby is now enrolled in Tiger Life, a special needs college curriculum at the University of Memphis. She is 20 and competing as an adult at NBHA shows and local shows. Shelby also has her work at The Stockyard Feed, the store Kim started as a business outlet for her daughter’s interests and her future. In addition, one of the things Shelby wants to do for the future is share her success and knowledge of horses and help others with special needs. She recently had a special needs friend out to the barn to try riding and see if it would be a “fit” for her. Within half an hour Shelby had the girl on horseback and trotting around the arena – and this was on Bo, the “fast” horse!  Sure, she was trotting slowly, and she was holding on to the saddle horn. And her dad was so excited he was crying!

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