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Back in the saddle: Senior amputee rides horse for first time in 50 years

“This is one of the best days I have had in a long time. I just don’t want it to end," said Brenda Ward.

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — What started as a joke between Brenda Ward and a caregiver at a retirement community turned into a dream come true for the senior amputee last week.

Conni Ortega, who works at Abernethy Laurels in Newton, said Ward mentioned something about "getting on the back of a horse and riding away" one day.

"I knew we had a program that helped grant resident’s dreams," said Ortega. "I remember telling Brenda that I thought I could make this happen for her.”

Ward was nominated then selected for the "Grant a Dream" program through United Church Homes and Services. The next step was finding a horse. 

That's where Rising Hope Farms, a non-profit therapeutic riding facility in Claremont, came into the picture.

"If there is a group of people who understand limitations and the strong desire to ride a horse, it is our amazing volunteers,” said owner-operator Gail Wartner.

On Thursday, Ward was able to mount and ride a 15-year-old horse named TUG, which stands for "Thanks Unto God". She received help from the Rising Hope team and encouragement from her daughter and a crowd of friends.

Look at all the residents from Abernethy Laurels that have come to visit the farm! And cheer on one of their fellow residents while she rides for the first time in 50 years!

"Look at all the residents from Abernethy Laurels that have come to visit the farm! And cheer on one of their fellow residents while she rides for the first time in 50 years!" Rising Hope Farms posted on Facebook.

The moment was thrilling for Ward.

"I loved being on top of that horse," she said. "After 50 years, I can’t believe it."

Ward said she rode horses until she had children, then she enrolled her kids in horseback riding lessons. She just loved being around the animals.

"They are such beautiful, peaceful creatures," she said.

Abernethy Laurels posted about Ward's memorable ride around the arena on Facebook, saying her will to get back in the saddle was more powerful than her disability.

"Brenda’s determination also proved to be much stronger than her limitation because Brenda rode a horse today!" the post read.

“This is one of the best days I have had in a long time. I just don’t want it to end," said Ward.

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