The New Holland Arena at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show (PNHS) belonged to therapeutic riders Friday afternoon for the fourth annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show Foundation Therapeutic Championship.

The Therapeutic Championship is traditionally held on Foundation Friday, which is dedicated to highlighting the work of the PNHS Foundation. Established in 1999, the PNHS Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization which supports equine rescue efforts and the education and training of persons in equestrian endeavors. Foundation grants provide scholarships for therapy students, care for therapy horses, and equipment for horses and riders.

Friday’s Therapeutic Championship riders qualified for the PNHS by competing in shows at Capital Area Therapeutic Riding Association, Friendly Horseman’s Club, or Leg Up Farm.

During the Championship, riders competed at the walk and trot. Riders in the assisted class could have leaders for their mounts and side-walkers if needed. Riders in the Unassisted class performed without help. They were judged for their horsemanship and equitation by returning judge Renee Poff with assistance from World Equestrian Games Canadian team rider Erynn Ballard and Pan American Games double gold medalist Marilyn Little.

In the Unassisted Championship, Leyna Ribner won top honors, Ava Little was named Reserve Champion, and Emily Estilow placed third.

Ribner’s mother Angi Shindledecker said that horseback riding not only taught her daughter, who has cerebral palsy and Asperger syndrome, how to walk, but has also inspired her to pursue a competitive career as a para-equestrian.

“When she was little, she had trouble getting up and getting walking,” Shindledecker said. “She had a therapist who understood the value of therapeutic riding and said that’s the only way she was really going to get good bipedal motion — we needed to get her on a horse. She was two at the time. That’s what started it. She fell in love with the horses. … She’s fallen in love with the sport now and she wants to go para-equestrian. That’s our next big hurdle. We’re getting ready to get her classified.”

In the Assisted division, returning champion Charles Turnbaugh defended his title and once again took home the Championship. Alexis Wanner earned Reserve Champion, and Fiona O’Rourke placed third.

The 2019 PNHS Foundation “Therapy Horse of the Year” and PNHS Therapy Horse of the Year Trophy was presented to Bulletproof, a 14-year-old American Quarter Horse. Bulletproof spent most of his career in New York giving lessons and showing on the hunter/jumper circuit. He has been very versatile performing his therapeutic duties with EquiTeam Support Services for the past three years and helping children, youth, families, and veterans.

Always the first choice of riders at EquiTeam, “Bullet” is also an integral part of the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program, giving insurmountable support to veterans working through combat trauma as well as helping parents and children learn and build appropriate relationships.