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Barn Fire Suspends Riding Therapy

The fire also destroyed equipment used by the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program.
The fire also destroyed equipment used by the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program. (Courtesy Of Kevin James)

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By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

For the past 27 years, the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program in Clifton has offered horseback riding lessons to mentally and physically disabled children and adults in the area. Relatives of the riders say the weekly classes give participants a chance to build self-confidence, awareness and concentration.

But last week, the program's 85 riders learned that their lessons had been suspended because of a fire that destroyed a barn and about $50,000 worth of riding equipment.

Officials said the fire last Thursday probably started between 9 and 10 p.m. when lightning struck the barn.

"There had been heavy storms in the area and it started at the top of the barn, which made us believe it was lightning," said Renee Stillwell, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

The barn, which was valued at about $25,000, contained horse stalls, saddles, bridles, other gear and medicine, fire officials said. No people or animals were injured.

Officials are working to find a permanent shelter for the center's 12 horses. The Loudoun Therapeutic Riding Foundation in Leesburg is one of several groups that have offered stable space and riding equipment.

"Everyone has been very helpful as far as helping us get back on our feet," program director Breeana Bornhorst said.

A couple who live on the Clifton property saw the flames and called police. When crews arrived, the barn was engulfed in flames, according to authorities. It took more than 30 firefighters about 30 minutes to contain the blaze, Stillwell said.

A Belgian quarter horse named Clancy was in the barn when the fire started, but he kicked out the stall door and escaped, Bornhorst said. Seven other horses in an adjacent paddock broke through a gate and entered a nearby field.

Kathy Blaine, program director for the Loudoun foundation, said she learned about the fire last week.

"We feel like it could've been any one of us," Blaine said. "Any kind of accidental fire is devastating to a horse facility. It's something that's always in the back of your mind, of having someone or one of your horses killed in a fire."

Several individuals have provided financial support since the fire, Bornhorst said. As a nonprofit group, the program relies heavily on community donations.

Tootie Rivera, whose son has cerebral palsy and was taking riding lessons, said the program has become an invaluable resource.

"Since he started riding with the program, my son has gained a better sense of balance, is more confident getting around and more enthusiastic about being around others," Rivera said. "For many of them, it's their one opportunity to get out on their own and feel free."

The group will host a meeting for residents and affected families Sunday at 7 p.m. at Clifton Town Hall. More information, including instructions for making a donation, is available at http://www.nvtrp.org.


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