Horsing around to an unexpected friendship

WILDWOOD, Mo. (KSDK) - On this small ranch in Wildwood, you can find an indoor arena, a gentle horse named Obi-wan and a very special friendship.

"Emily is thrilled when she gets here to see if Bob is here," Lynn Schmidt said.

Bob Manges, 68, and Emily Schmidt, 13, have been meeting like this every week for 10 years.

"He's just a kind soul and I think Emily can pick up on that, "said Schmidt. She is Emily's mom.

Emily has Down syndrome and so, when she was just four, her mom signed her up for Equine-Assisted Therapy.

"Riding a horse is good exercise," Manges said.

Many children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone and Emily was no exception. Over the years, according to her mom, riding helped improve her strength, agility and even her respiration.

And Bob has been here every step of the way.

"She comes running in and gives you a big hug and it just melts your heart," Manges said.

When Bob retired as a high school principal in 2002, he wasn't ready to be put out to pasture. With a degree in special education, he decided to try and make a difference for kids like Emily.

"Our volunteers like Bob Manges are wonderful. We wouldn't be here without our volunteers," said Gary Hartke, president of Equine-Assisted Therapy.

When Bob first got started as a volunteer 10 years ago, he says he knew nothing about horses, but he says he learned quickly.

"The horse is just an instrument," he said. "Kind of like a blackboard or a computer. It's the kids that are important."

As the years went by, Emily grew more and more confident and Bob learned when to take the reins and when to let go.

"There can be difficult times raising a child with a disability and seeing the goodness in people really makes those times much easier," Schmidt said.

And when we asked Emily what she liked best about horseback riding she said simply, "I feel great!"

One man showing that friendship can come in all shapes and sizes. What matters most is that you're along for the ride.

"It makes you feel good to know, " Manges said, "that you're doing something to help other people."


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