Spirit of Alabama: Equestrian Program serves blind, deaf children

That’s the longest time that has elapsed between a story I’ve made and a follow-up report. 32 years ago I did a story with the Greene family in Talladega. Mariana Greene Henry was the daughter of Pat and Marilyn Greene. Due to heart problems, she died at the age of 31. Marianna was involved with a special horseback riding 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 of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega.

So the Greens were determined to make their daughter’s dream come true. When I made the story decades ago, the family only had a small outdoor riding arena, but it was a start. Children began to come and trained therapists worked with them as they began specialty therapy on horseback. The children were a little apprehensive at first but their confidence grew with each visit and today the Marianna Greene Henry Equestrian Arena is an important part of the AIDB program. Pat Greene, now in his 90s, is delighted to visit the arena.

“You know what gives you the most satisfaction is coming down and watching the kids ride or waiting to ride and see the excitement and the look on their faces when they see the horses and get on the horses’ backs” said Greene. “They don’t realize they get any use out of it other than just enjoying it.”

Kate Storjohann is the Arena’s Lead Program Instructor. She has no doubt that the bond between rider and horse is almost immediate and crucial to her therapy. Thing is, she’s not sure why.

“You know, I don’t know that there’s actually an explanation for that, there’s just something really special and magical about getting on a horse’s back or building a relationship with it on the spot,” she said. “They’re so intuitive, which is what we need as humans, and they really read your emotions and your feelings, and they respond without prejudice, and they’re just special, special animals.”

Greene’s mission over the years to raise money to keep the programs running at the MGH Arena. Many regular donors donate annually and also support some foundations. Raising that support every year takes time and effort, he said.

“During the pandemic, like most nonprofits, we suffered from our fundraising,” he said. “But fortunately we have many major donors who donate every year and have done so for years. We are in a very good position financially. But it takes a lot of money to run such a program.”

Greene’s son Tim runs the arena and Pat is happy about that. He knows that the company is in good hands. This is good news for young people who know that AIDB’s motto is Deaf, Blind, Limitless. Their therapy here helps them to further realize their dream of independent living. Marianna Henry Greene would be delighted, right?