JP West digs Abraham Lincoln. He memorized the first lines of the Gettysburg Address, wrote a book report about the former President and visited his log cabin home in Kentucky during a detour of the family road trip north to Grammy’s.

JP likes to cook and watch the Food Network TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Most of all, he loves horses. The horse was his favorite animal to play with and one of the first signs he learned as a toddler.

“When I read about therapeutic horseback riding, it sounded like a great idea,” explained JP’s dad, Dave. “Riding at SIRE has been a win/win as JP gets to be around animals he loves while at the same time getting some exercise he needs.”

Now 9-and-a-half years old, JP has been riding at SIRE since age 4, beginning about six months after he first started walking. His mom, Katy, described that although JP has found doing physical exercise and running unmotivating, “he’s never had a problem getting on a horse.”

They arrive early for his weekly lessons so JP—with treats in tow—has time to greet all of the horses he has ridden and quiz each one, “Do you remember me?”

The upright posture required for riding has helped JP with core strength and gives his parents the reference point to urge him “to sit up tall like a cowboy” when he’s away from SIRE. JP’s work with SIRE has changed him not just physically, Katy pointed out. He’s become more confident and interactive.

“When his friends at school talk about sports, JP can say, ‘I ride a horse,’ ” she said. “Other kids ask him about that and see him as an expert. He likes that.”

JP also has participated in SIRE competitions and the annual Saddle Up for SIRE benefit trail ride, all of which involve crowds and excited noise. Dave explained that JP had a fear of people paying attention to him, but after last year’s trail ride, JP announced he liked when people cheer for him. Since then, JP has been playing on a soccer team.

“He has learned that even when things are a bit scary, with the support from SIRE volunteers and staff, he can be brave and do things he thought were impossible,” Dave said.

Learning life’s toughest lessons comes easy for no one.

Katy recalled one of the most touching experiences her family has had with SIRE involved the passing of  Dusty, the horse JP rode for two years. When Dusty was no longer training with clients because of an illness, JP checked on him and brought him celery. Dusty died and, so sad themselves, Katy and Dave dreaded sharing the news with JP.

“JP said, ‘Oh, that’s OK. When I get to heaven, I’ll get to see Dusty again,’ ” Katy said. “The value of being a part of SIRE isn’t always just about building core strength and why we drive an hour there and back. It’s not just about the riding.”

JP has grown into such a versatile horseman that he now helps groom the horses; he warms them up by walking them around the arena before he rides and leads his horse back to the stall when his lesson is complete. He loudly proclaims, “Horse coming through.”

Considering the many SIRE experiences JP has had interacting with his lifetime-favorite animal, Katy said: “I think anytime JP gets to ride a horse is his favorite time to ride.”