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Using her horse sense

B Y   L A U R E L   W I L L O U G H B Y ,   A S S I S T A N T   E D I T O R

Northwest EquiCARE client Danetta Hutchinson rides atop her therapy horse, Bud, with help from handler Jill Hall (on foot, left) and safety aide Janey Miller (right).

Wendy (Worthington) Rude's '89 faith can move mountains ... well, houses at least.
      Last February, the founder of Northwest EquiCARE Rehabilitation Riding Program saw another element of her successful venture drop into place – literally. Over the space of three days, a 1,700-sq.-ft. donated house was moved onto property near PLU to serve as the organization's student internship and education center. A working facility for volunteers, the center also will feature dormitory rooms for student interns pursuing careers working with the disabled.
      Unlike Oz's Wicked Witch of the West, Rude looked forward to the day when "someone would come along and drop a house" on her – it was a long way from Northwest EquiCARE's modest start eight years ago on her family's fifth-generation farm in Eatonville, Wash. In recent years, the fledgling company has taken off.
      Traditionally, Northwest EquiCARE had only been able to take summer clients, lately helping about two dozen disabled children and adults each year. But in 1997, the program became year-round and enrollment tripled. Through fall 1998, 60 to 70 clients participate, with another 20 on a waiting list. Nine therapy horses are rotated through the sessions, and some 30 volunteers – including a handful of PLU students – give their time each week in equine support, marketing, educational outreach, riding assistance and related activities.
      Sounds like part of a well-crafted plan formed in the head of a service-minded visionary, right? Not exactly. Despite her success, Rude calls herself a follower, not a leader.
      "I never set out to create Northwest EquiCARE," she said. "It has a life of its own now, and we just facilitate it. I've been blessed with a healthy body, a farm, the horses, the education – and it's been my job to listen to see where He leads me."
      Because she now spends 90 percent of her time in administration, Rude is grateful for the host of volunteers and various community agencies that provide the necessary pieces of her organization's work. Northwest EquiCARE is allied closely with Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, which houses one of the best rehabilitation facilities in this part of the country.

Northwest EquiCARE founder Wendy (Worthington) Rude '89 waits as a donated house is jockeyed into position onto land near PLU to serve as a student internship and education center.
Northwest EquiCARE's roots
Looking back at the path that has taken Rude to the present day is like watching a reverse-run film of a shattering Chihuly glass sculpture: many far-flung bits and pieces magically gravitate to where they belong, finally creating a beautiful whole.
      Rude graduated from high school in 1980 and worked her way through PLU, eventually earning a sociology degree with a communication minor in 1989. Throughout this time, she worked on the family farm and put in many volunteer hours with the disabled and disadvantaged in her community.
      "Volunteering is something I've always done in one capacity or another," Rude said, "and my degree from PLU just naturally supplemented that." (She would go on to earn a master's from Seattle University in not-for-profit executive leadership, one of the first degrees of its kind awarded by the school.)
      One volunteer post had Rude working with at-risk children in the Youth for Christ program at the Remann Hall youth detention center in Tacoma. She frequently took her young charges for visits to the farm.
      "I began to notice that the kids really took to the horses," she said.
      And if Rude saw sparks between troubled youth and her four-hoofed friends, the energy generated between disabled people and horses proved to be pure magic. Children and adults with behavioral and physical disabilities, who may have had trouble relating to the humans in their lives, were often able to make equine connections instead, she said.

Horses as miracle workers
"The horses are big, warm animals, and they provide a living, breathing, active complement to other physical therapy," Rude noted. Horseback riding increases joint mobility, strengthens muscles, stimulates cardiovascular and respiratory function, and improves posture, balance, coordination, self-confidence and self-awareness. But horseback-riding therapy comes with a bonus simply not available with passive physical therapy.
      "More than any other animal, horses' biomechanics – the way they walk – are the most like humans," Rude noted. "Instead of artificially manipulating joints and muscles, riders get as absolutely close as they can to true walking and mobility. As the horse goes forward, a rider's hips and legs have to move and alternate in the same fashion as if they were actually walking."
      She has seen lots of miracles happen, too. Clients who were physically or emotionally unresponsive have learned, over weeks or months of therapy, to sit up, pay attention, interact with people, and sometimes even verbalize for the first time.
      "Learning just to sit and ride on the horse today often translates into 'Hi, Mom,' later on," Rude observed. "Whatever a rider may not be able to do now, we just treat them all as if they're going to do it tomorrow. The question we ask ourselves is, 'What do we have to do today to get them there?'"

On down the trail...
Another question Rude and her group have been pondering is where Northwest EquiCARE will operate in the coming months and years. The Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup and other local facilities can't serve the growing program much longer.
      "We really could use our own piece of land for long-term use, as well as more horses," she said. Rude has faith these needs will be answered, just as all the others have in the past.
      "Northwest EquiCARE has always kind of presented its needs," Rude observed, "and we've learned to step out of the way and facilitate the process. To me, doing this work is life and service. What are you going to do: keep God only in the church?"

Northwest EquiCARE is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing equine therapeutic riding for disabled clients. Sponsors and volunteers are needed for every facet of the organization's work: scholarships, horse shows, safety equipment, therapy-horse care, marketing, educational outreach and more. For information on how you can help, please contact Wendy Rude at the Northwest EquiCARE office, 360-832-6386 or WRude@aol.com.

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