When Bobbi Thies retired from her career as an art teacher in Milford, she wanted to be a full-time artist with a part-time job at Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship (CRH). But as one of the founders of the riding center (with Sue Radabaugh and Childress Rodgers), her love of horses turned CRH into a full-time passion.

For people with cognitive and physical disabilities, CRH teaches horsemanship skills such as riding, dismounting, tacking and grooming. The center also offers "hippotherapy," which uses a horse's modality to help patients with movement dysfunction.

Julia Smith can attest to the results. When her daughter, who has Down syndrome, began riding horseback, "her speech took off," Smith says. A former CRH volunteer herself, she says one of the best parts of helping at CRH is seeing the smiles on faces of people in wheelchairs once they're astride a horse.

The CRH riding center has expanded with the hiring of a second full-time riding instructor earlier this year, relieving what had been a perpetual for classes (CRH has no more than five students per class so that everyone gets enough attention). And it's the first program of its kind to be accredited by North American Riding for the Handicapped.

No wonder more than 200 volunteers devote their time to the center. Gary Smith of Amelia has helped since 1986, one year after the program began. He accompanies riders by leading their horses or walking alongside them as a safety precaution. "I learn something every day that I'm here," says Smith, who is partially deaf. He credits the "wonderful people and wonderful instructors" who want "what's best for the rider."

Thies says the volunteers "come from heaven"”the same place our horses come from."

CRH moved into the old Red Fox Stable on State Rt. 50 four years ago. Now the lobby is welcoming, the stables are tidy and there's an indoor track so they can give lessons on rainy days.

Thies notes it's difficult to find therapy horses"”most are old show ponies"”and CRH is always looking for more. "They have to be very confident animals," she explains.

"I've loved horses forever," she adds with a smile. "To think that they could make the life of someone with a disability so much better is wonderful."