RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. - Sara Panganiban isn’t letting her underdeveloped arms hold her back from riding Charming, a therapy horse owned by the non-profit, Ride to Fly.
Sara always dreamed of riding horses. For the last four years, she’s been practicing in Rancho Palos Verdes with Ride to Fly. The non-profit provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to help people with disabilities build strength and confidence.
“It’s really fun and um . . . it’s nice to know that they think I’m good enough that they can listen to me,” said Sara.
At first, riding was a new challenge for her and her instructor Monique Hansen because Sara doesn’t have a lot of upper body strength. That’s why Hansen decided to teach her new riding skills and bring in flat reins to help her steer.
It’s been a challenge, but one Sara has been determined to overcome.
“But, now I have flat reins and it’s made it a lot easier,” said Sara.
She’s learned to balance herself by building her core strength and using mostly her eyes to steer as she works toward becoming a proficient independent rider. She's also won a few ribbons in local competitions.
“The relationship between the rider and the horse is really beautiful to watch. When you have students like Sara who are able to learn things a new way,” Hansen said.
For Hansen, teaching Sara how to become a better rider reminds her of her own beginnings with therapeutic riding. Hansen has high-functioning autism. But through horses, she’s found a calling to help others.
Hansen’s leadership has even inspired others to follow in her footsteps. Sara said she’ll continue challenging herself to become an independent rider in the hopes of one day becoming a therapeutic riding instructor like Hansen.