SIRE Rider Earns Special Olympic Gold, Star Musician Status

Having benefited from therapeutic riding in another state, the Maleriches were familiar with harnessing the connection between horse and human to enhance the lives of people with special needs. But it took a move to Texas and immersion into the SIRE family for Carol Malerich to fully benefit from learning how to command the movement and provide care for these majestic animals.

At Carol’s previous facility, riders rode horses in a group of six people and did not receive individualized attention to improve their confidence or learn to actually  handle a horse, Carol’s mom, Leah, explained. And although Carol enjoyed the experience, Leah described the sessions as “pony rides.”

“Having had experience riding myself, I was shocked to see the SIRE instructors were giving the riders real riding lessons,” Leah said. “I was thinking, ‘Whoa, this is so cool.’ ”

When she started training at SIRE, one of Carol’s goals was to rely more on herself and overcome what her mom described as a “learned helplessness” and feeling as if she needed permission from a family member. SIRE instructors remembered her as initially being very nervous and having  little self-confidence. Carol was afraid to try any independent riding.

SIRE’s team designed programs and activities to build Carol’s confidence. She learned to make decisions for herself and take control of a situation in order to direct her horse through patterns in the arena. As her confidence, grew Carol started displaying her skills at competitions like Special Olympics, where she has won several medals. Proud of her accomplishments, Carol wore her gold medals to church and the grocery store with her mom. Now very outgoing and confident, Carol is an ambassador for SIRE and is always willing to share her stories of winning and riding.

From Student to Teacher
At 25 years old, Carol has been riding with SIRE for four years, and she loves challenges. “Carol’s work at SIRE forces her to rely on herself,” Leah said. “In addition to her riding lesson, she’s involved in the horse’s care. She’s got to plan ahead, get her horse, gather her saddle and other tack and brush the horse afterwards.”  Carol rides independently but when called upon by the SIRE staff, she will partner with new volunteers to teach them how to be a successful sidewalker.

SIRE provides a bit of respite for Leah as well. On lesson day, Leah drops Carol off early so she can help the staff and volunteers with horse chores and care. This teaches Carol new skills for the world and gives her mom a half day to herself.

Taking the Big Stage
Known to her family and SIRE friends as a skilled pianist and vocalist, Carol developed the courage to share her musical talents on a larger stage. As a participant in several Special Olympics, she twice performed the National Anthem, once accompanying on the piano while her sister sang and once playing the piano and singing herself. “She has a joyful spirit that is infectious to everyone around her,” said Shayna Bolton, site manager at SIRE’s Spring facility where Carol rides.

Away from SIRE, Carol encourages friends and people she meets to get involved with SIRE. She directs them to the website’s online volunteer signup form. She strolls around her neighborhood and knows all the dogs’ names. She recently landed a job taking care of the neighbor’s dog while they vacationed, and she was featured in the neighborhood newsletter for her many achievements.

Special Olympic gold medal winner. Stellar horsewoman. Acclaimed musician. Job well done, Carol.