cal sport horse. They each help chal- lenged children with cognitive disabilities develop confidence, communication and fine motor skills through hippotherapy, a very special kind of physical therapy. Zayla is an elegant 16.2-hand dappled


gray Holsteiner mare. Bred for the show ring, she trains at Second and Third level dressage and is the personal riding horse of dressage judge and trainer Meris Greges of Athens, Alabama. With her expressive eyes and femi-

nine grace, Zayla’s fine breeding shows with every step. Her damsire is the elite stallion Merano, son of Merlin, who was judged best Holsteiner stallion in all of Germany in 1970. Her grandsire is Rantares, the 2007 USEF Sire of the Year for Dressage. Meris bred and raised Zayla herself. Quirky and smart with a hint of mischief, she’s the only horse in the yard who requires a snap on her stall door latch. “One day I tried clicker train- ing and she learned to go touch a target in one session,” Meris says of her very intelligent mare. Euro BVR, fondly known as Hero, is an

attractive 15.1-hand black Andalusian gelding who looks like he just stepped off the cover of a romance novel. The gelding’s damsire is the imported dressage stallion Granadino XI—a famous son of Leviton, one of the greatest PRE sires in all of Spain. Another personal riding horse of Meris’s, she purchased him in July of 2017 as a trail and obstacle horse. Meris says that when she first went to look at him,

or two dressage horses—and their trainer— competitive careers are not enough. They also participate in a unique job that sets them apart from the typi-

By Karina Rapp

A Warmblood and an Andalusian have important second careers healing children at this Alabama farm.

“He hadn’t been worked for six months prior to me trying him and he went with everything I asked. Overall he is very willing to please.” Since then, Meris has trained him for dressage and shown him at Training level. In addition to being a USEF “r” dres- sage judge, a USDF bronze and silver medalist, winner of multiple USDF All-Breeds awards and a US Pony Club graduate, Meris is a certified therapeu- tic riding instructor for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horseman- ship International (PATH). Her program, located in the northern tip of Alabama, works in conjunction with an occu- pational therapist (OT) and a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), who both bring their pediatric patients for sessions with Zayla and Hero. Her hippotherapy program is small

and intimate. “I have a unique program in that all of my therapy students come from my two professionals. For every session they are there with their client. They set the goals for the day, but we work together to meet the goals. My main job is to make sure that everyone is safe—the horse, the student and the therapist,” Meris says.

TOP: Meris and her son with her Andalusian Hero at a dressage show. BOTTOM: Meris riding her Holsteiner mare Zayla at a dressage clinic.

Therapy and Horses Blend Hippotherapy is different from thera- peutic riding because it focuses on clinical goals instead of riding goals. Essentially, a horse is used as a “prop” for therapists to work around with their patients. The term and concept of ‘hippotherapy’ was first coined in

Germany in the 1960s, when horses began to be consid- ered as additional resources for physical therapy.

Warmbloods Today 51

Courtesy Meris Greges

Ilona Gerou



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