Spirit of Alabama: Equestrian program serves blind, deaf children

This is the longest amount of time that has transpired between a story I did and a follow-up report. It was 32 years ago that I did a story with the Greene family of Talladega. Mariana Greene Henry was the daughter of Pat and Marilyn Greene. Due to complications of heart problems she died at the age of 31. Marianna had been involved in a special equestrian program in the Birmingham area and her dream was to start a program in the Talladega area. The one she hoped to develop would serve the children from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega.

So, the Greenes were determined to make their daughter’s dream a reality. When I did the story decades ago the family only had a small, outdoor riding ring but it was a start. Children began to come and trained therapist worked with them as they began special therapy on horseback. At first the children were a bit apprehensive but with each visit their confidence grew and today the Marianna Greene Henry Equestrian Arena is an important part of the AIDB program. Pat Greene, now in his 90s, takes great satisfaction in visiting the arena.

“You know the thing that gives you the most satisfaction is to come down and watching the kids riding or waiting to ride and see the excitement and the looks on their faces when they see the horses and get on the horses back,” Greene said. “They don’t realize that they’re getting a benefit other than just enjoyment out of it.”

Kate Storjohann is the lead program instructor at the arena. She has no doubt that the connection between the riders and the horses is almost immediate and critically important to their therapy. Things is, she’s not sure why.

“You know I don’t that there’s actually an explanation for that, it’s just there’s just something truly special and magical about getting on the back of a horse or developing a relationship with them on the ground,” she said. “They’re so intuitive to what we need as people and they really read your emotions and your feelings, and they respond in a non-judgmental way and they’re just special, special animals.”

Greene’s mission for all these years to raise money to keep the programs going at the MGH Arena. Many regular donors make annual gifts and some foundations provide support too. It takes time and effort to raise that support every year, he said.

“During the pandemic, like most nonprofits, we suffered some in our fundraising,” he said. “But fortunately, we have a lot of major donors who donate every year and have for years and years. And so, we’re on very sound footing as far as our funding is concerned. But it does take a lot of money to run a program like this.”

Greene’s son Tim runs the arena and that pleases Pat. He knows that the operation is in good hands. That’s good news for the young people who know the motto at AIDB is “Deaf, Blind, Limitless.” Their therapy here helps them continue to reach for their dreams of living independently. Marianna Henry Greene would be pleased, wouldn’t she?

Categories: Featured, Spirit of Alabama