Spirit of Alabama: Equestrian program serves blind and deaf children

This is the longest time that has passed between a story I’ve written and a follow-up report. 32 years ago I did a story on the Greene family in Talladega. Mariana Greene Henry was the daughter of Pat and Marilyn Greene. Due to complications of heart problems he died at the age of 31. Marianna had been involved in a special riding program in the Birmingham area and her dream was to start a program in the Talladega area. The one she hopes to develop will serve children at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega.

So the Verzi family was determined to make their daughter’s dream come true. When I wrote the story decades ago, the family had only a small outdoor riding ring, but it was a start. Children began to come and a trained therapist worked with them as they began special therapy on horseback. At first the children were a little 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 90 years old, takes great satisfaction in visiting the arena.

“You know the most satisfying thing is coming down and seeing the kids riding or waiting to ride and seeing the excitement and the expressions on their faces when they see the horses and get back on the horses,” Greene said . “They don’t realize they’re getting a benefit other than just pleasure out of it.”

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

“You know I don’t know that there’s actually an explanation for it, it’s just that there’s something really 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 humans and they really read your emotions and feelings and respond in a non-judgmental way and they’re just special, special animals.”

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

“During the pandemic, like most nonprofits, we suffered somewhat in 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 a very good footing in terms of our funding. But it takes a lot of money to run a program like that.”

Greene’s son Tim runs the arena and Pat likes it. He knows the operation is in good hands. This is good news for the youth who know the AIDB motto is “Deaf, Blind, No Limits”. Their therapy here helps them continue to achieve their dreams of independent living. Marianna Henry Greene would be delighted, wouldn’t she?

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