By JANET HEIM
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Horses are Stephanie Eberly’s favorite animal.
“I’ve always loved horses — working with them, riding them, taking pictures of them,” said Stephanie, 17, who started riding at age 9.
When she needed to earn community service hours to meet a high school requirement, the former Heritage Academy student completed the volunteer training at Star Equestrian Center, at 13674 Greencastle Pike.
She started volunteering while an eighth-grader in October 2009. Since then, Stephanie has logged 684 hours at Star Equestrian Center and a total of 876 community service hours since ninth grade.
She recently received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, through the 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which came with a certificate and signed letter from President Obama.
This year, Stephanie is home-schooled and takes Essence classes through Hagerstown Community College, combining course work to complete her 11th- and 12th-grade years this year. She attended Heritage Academy for her first two years of high school.
Stephanie plans to attend HCC for two years, then transfer to a four-year college. She would like to be an equine veterinarian or an English teacher.
“Those are my two main interests,” said Stephanie, the daughter of Roger and Jeanne Eberly of Clear Spring.
Stephanie is saving to buy her own horse, despite breaking her arm last year in a fall from an Arabian horse.
“On the way to the E.R., I asked her `Are you done riding?”‘ Jeanne Eberly said. The answer was “no.”
At Star Equestrian, which offers riding lessons to people with disabilities and able-bodied riders, Stephanie helps with three to four riding lessons a week, assisting disabled riders and ensuring their safety on the horses, said Ted Larew, a therapeutic riding instructor at Star.
Before each lesson, she grooms the horses and saddles them, then cleans up afterward.
Stephanie finds benefits in her volunteer work.
“Well, it’s working with horses for one thing. The riders are so happy and great to work with. All have disabilities. To watch their progress, it’s a lot of fun,” Stephanie said.
The ultimate goal is for the participants to ride without a leader.
On a recent day, Stephanie was assisting Fiona Larsen of Shepherdstown, W.Va., who has been riding since she was 8.
Larsen, 37, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall from a racehorse she was exercising at the horse track in Charles Town, W.Va., a week before her 20th birthday, said her mother, Pat Larsen. She was in a coma for six months.
The rehabilitation centers at which Fiona recovered had riding centers.
“She’s been riding ever since (the fall),” Pat Larsen said.
“The horse can’t be replicated in the gym. It moves in three dimensions. It takes quite a bit of coordination — hands, eyes, legs — therapy in itself, challenging them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, as well as mentally challenging,” Larew said.
Stephanie has been trained to monitor horses, Larew said. STAR Equestrian employees help guide the horses around the course on the track, serving as “sidewalkers,” responsible for the rider, or “leaders” in charge of the horse.
Stephanie also volunteers with Convoy of Hope and at her church, Maugansville Bible Brethren, among other things. She has a cumulative grade-point average of 4.14.
“She has incredible maturity for her age. She can take directions, operate independently and has real compassion for people with disabilities. … The other things that’s good to see is her leadership, to train new volunteers,” Larew said.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)