Stephanie Kubarth, right, was awarded the November 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award. She is pictured with Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program student Johnny Margetson. Courtesy photo
Union Grove, WI
Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program
After completing a hippotherapy lesson with one of her students, Stephanie Kubarth began growing suspicious when she noticed the increasing number of students and their parents pouring into her barn with cupcakes and secretive grins. As she approached the group, Kubarth was suddenly greeted by a loud applause and Wisconsin’s first lady Tonette Walker holding out a plaque for her.
Because of her service to the community and her passionate commitment to helping children through the Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program, Kubarth was honored with the November 2013 Wisconsin Heroes Award.
“I was totally stunned,” Kubarth said. “I’m the one to surprise everyone else, but they got me good.”
Kubarth started MTRP, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization offering therapeutic horseback riding services to children, ages 2-½ to 18 years old, with special needs in Northeastern Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin, in 1998.
She was inspired by demonstrations in therapeutic riding at the Midwest Horse Fair and began volunteering for the programs. Kubarth started looking for opportunities to bring a therapeutic riding program to the Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee areas and was encouraged to start her own program. She started teaching at Special Methods in Learning Equine Skills (SMILES) in Darien, Wis. to learn more about the program. Kubarth taught at SMILES for three years, obtained certification in Equine Assisted Activities, then started MTRP.
Because she wanted to be as helpful as she could to her students, Kubarth went back to school to become a licensed occupational therapist. MTRP offers lessons that incorporate life skills and Individualized Education Plan goals in a fun and enjoyable setting. Through “Hippotherapy,” meaning “treatment with the help of a horse,” Kubarth andher staff and volunteers teach riding skills that use the movement of the horse to influence the rider’s posture, balance, function and sensory processing. She said she works with children with special needs like autism, cerebral palsy, genetic disorders and pediatric cancer through physical, emotional and cognitive challenges.
Kubarth said while she is humbled by the award, she doesn’t mind boasting about the accomplishments and strides made by her riders and instructors. In the past several years, MTRP has had three students win Rider of the Year through Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (formerly North American Riding for the Handicapped Association), an Instructor of the Year and multiple Therapy Horse of the Year recognitions in the region and in the nation.
“She’s the most humble person I know, said 19-year-old Carly Renguette, one of Kubarth’s students. “I know winning an award like this was probably unthinkable to her. … She’s not a normal horse therapist. She gives up her time to help. She’s wonderful and crazy and makes everybody feel special. … It’s amazing going there everyday to ride.”
Renguette joined MTRP at age 11, after a spinal cord injury left doctors questioning whether she would ever be able to regain movement. She said she had always liked horses, but grew to love them after working in the program with Kubarth. During the program, Renguette said she worked on core strength, arm strength and balance when riding. In 2011, she was named 2011 Rider of the Year through PATH International. Renguette was able to walk across the stage at her high school graduation to receive her diploma.
“If people are thinking about volunteering for a program, they should,” Kubarth said. “It’s so rewarding. I get so much more out of it than I give.”
1451 172nd Avenue
Union Grove, WI 53182
- By Lisa Kucharski, Associate Editor
About the award:
Wisconsin’s first lady Tonette Walker is awarding a Wisconsin Heroes Award each month to deserving volunteers, selfless contributors and exceptional people for their willingness, compassion and commitment to the betterment of Wisconsin. Walker visits and presents the award to the winner. If you know someone who is voluntarily making Wisconsin a better place, you can nominate that person for a Wisconsin Heroes Award.