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McHenry woman a mainstay in therapeutic horse-riding program

Published: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

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It was 28 years ago that Amy Racette’s neighbor asked her for a peculiar – and life-changing – favor.

The neighbor, physical therapist Sandy Barcus, had several years earlier co-founded the Main Stay Therapeutic Riding Program in nearby Richmond, which uses horse riding to help people with physical, developmental, emotional and social disabilities. The growing group needed side walkers – people who walk alongside the horses to make sure the rider is calmed and properly supported – and she wondered whether Racette would be interested.

Racette didn’t know the first thing about horses, hence the offer to be a side walker, but she decided to give it a try.

“It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to do something outside of my comfort zone. But I found it very comfortable,” Racette said.

Almost three decades later, Racette is a fixture, always ready to help out and volunteer extra time should it be needed, whether it be as a side walker or to help with special events. The employee who nominated Racette as an Everyday Hero called her “truly an angel on earth” and someone who puts everyone else ahead of herself and is embarrassed when thanked for her years of service.

It’s a humility that was reflected in her interview – it took a bit of persuasion for Racette to accept the honor.

“Every time I walk into the barn and see everybody doing their own thing to support Main Stay, I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” Racette said. “Every animal, every person, is a hero for the program.”

The program serves about 70 students a week, and Racette is one of about 100 volunteers who help the small staff.

Each client comes in with different problems, Racette said, and the progress they make just through the simple act of riding a horse is awe-inspiring. Racette, who taught preschool for 25 years, walks alongside the horse with a hand on the rider to sense if anything is wrong and keep them calm if need be.

Main Stay Volunteer Coordinator Danielle McKenna, who nominated Racette, said that Racette is just as much of a healing factor to the client as the horse.

“She becomes a confidant, a mentor and a friend, and has bonded with families over decades of work together. Amy has the most gentle spirit that radiates from her pure and unconditional love,” McKenna said. “No one learns by having someone else do their work, so Amy’s balance of support and you-can-do-it spirit allows people to soar on their own.”

Racette wants to parlay her honor as an Everyday Hero into getting more help for Main Stay. The program needs more volunteers and donors.

She told prospective volunteers that they, like she did, will find the experience immediately rewarding.

“Once you walk into the barn it just lifts you up,” Racette said.

To learn more about Main Stay, and how to get involved, go to www.mstrp.org.

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