The team from Holistic Riding Equestrian Therapy (HRET), a 501(c)3 organization, recently enjoyed an exciting 2019 Special Olympics fall competition.

The event was held at BraveHearts at the Bergmann Centre, a therapeutic riding facility in Poplar Grove, Ill., and this was HRET’s fourth year of competing.

Athletes came from Mt. Greenwood, La Grange, Lemont, Naperville, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights and Worth. They performed exceptionally and collectively brought home four gold, four silver and four bronze medals.

Shane Blake, of Mt. Greenwood, riding independently on the Rocky Mountain horse, Oliver, expertly navigated his horse through two competitions, earning a gold and silver medal. Shane has been riding for seven years, four with HRET.

Other participants included returning riders Amelia, Maggie and Nigel and new riders Fiona, Madeline, Aiden and Mustafa.

All the riders enjoyed dancing at the opening-ceremony Halloween costume party, showcasing their skills in the riding arena and celebrating with their teammates.

HRET’s training for the Special Olympics started in July and culminated in an unforgettable experience. The riders demonstrated amazing sportsmanship and skill all weekend. The entire volunteer team was ecstatic at seeing the riders perform at their best and share a sense of team pride.

“Our volunteers and athletes work really hard to make the Special Olympics event an enjoyable success,” said Program and Rider Director Ashley Wurth. “The resulting memories, proud smiles, happy tears, accomplishments and team camaraderie make this event one of the most unforgettable each year.”

Kathy Sanders, of Beverly, a volunteer and financial supporter, said HRET provides many rewards for participants.

“I believe it’s an honor to be a volunteer with HRET,” Sanders said. “What I get from working with the kids far exceeds what I put into the program, and I put a lot of time into it. It’s so gratifying to see how the efforts of the many dedicated volunteers impact not only the riders but their families as well. It is truly a humbling experience—and as a bonus, I get to work with horses.”

Financial supporters and the number of volunteers directly determine the number of riders that HRET serves annually. HRET is in the process of providing for program expansion with the launch of a capital campaign to build its own ADA-compliant, climate-controlled building with a ramp and lift to better serve the needs of riders of all abilities.

To learn more about the capital campaign, email

HRET is based at Kopping Farms, a 150-year-old historic landmark and working farm that is located adjacent to the Palos Forest Preserves in Lemont, Ill., and the new arena will be built there.

HRET classes include equine-assisted activities and therapies, ground school programs, a farming/nature experience curriculum, and trail riding. The farm/nature experience program builds on relationship skills through team participation in farm chores and nature activities.

According to HRET Executive Director Marlene Karman, the program creates interest and hope for future educational and career opportunities.

“The sense of pride, along with enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem derived from our participants knowing that their horses need them for care and exercise, is unlike anything I have ever experienced in any other industry,” Karman said. “The bonding among riders, volunteers and horses is the heart of our HRET family.”

The HRET team is committed to enhancing the quality of life for individuals of varied abilities and veterans—physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially.

HRET offers a variety of skill-appropriate classes that meet the needs of preschoolers on ponies to independent riders on program-safe horses.

Classes are taught by riding instructors who are certified by the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Semi-private and private lessons are offered year-round with group classes conducted February to December.

To schedule a rider-intake interview and reserve a place in the 2020 HRET program, email Space is limited, and the program fills up quickly.

To join the volunteer team, which includes nearly a dozen residents of Beverly, Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood, attend the next orientation on Sunday, Dec. 8.

For more information or to register for volunteer training, email