First Lady Tonette Walker

A hero on horseback

By Terry Flores
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Leader of therapeutic riding center named a Wisconsin Hero

The director of a local therapeutic horseback riding program received the Wisconsin Heroes award from the state’s first lady Tuesday afternoon.

Stephanie Kubarth, founder and director of the Midwest Therapeutic Riding Center, 1451 172nd Ave., was honored with the plaque from Tonette Walker at the facility during a surprise ceremony before staff, volunteers, parents and riders.

Kubarth, who was nominated by County Board Supervisor Erin Decker, also an employee of the center, stood shocked before the group in front of a table that held horse-themed cupcakes, fresh apples and punch.

A licensed occupational therapist, Kubarth was nominated for her 17 years helping children with a range of special needs, from autism to brain injuries and health concerns.

The award is given each month by the first lady to a resident whose efforts have made the state a better place to live.

The program is accredited through the Professional Association for Therapeutic Riding.

“Thank you for all you do for the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.

Deflecting praise

Not one to take credit, Kubarth was modest in her acceptance of the award. She recognized her staff and volunteers, saying they made the center’s work possible.

“They are the ones (who deserve credit),” she said.

“You’re all heroes,” the first lady said.

Also known as hippotherapy, or therapy with the help of horses, the center’s programs have been designed to benefit children and adult  with multiple sclerosis, developmental delays, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, autism spectral disorders and Down syndrome, among others. A few years ago, the program expanded to help children with cancer.

“I was very surprised to receive this,” said Kubarth, a former retail buyer whose love of horses led her to her passion to help others through hippotherapy.

Making a difference

For Carly Renguette, 18, of Racine, the program has had a profound effect on her ability to recover from a spinal cord stroke she had at age 11.

The stroke left her paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told her she might never walk again. She used a wheelchair for several years before eventually graduating to a walker and crutches.

Recently, Renguette took five steps —without either. And she credits Kubarth’s program for helping her take those steps to being “free,” she said, with the hope of walking farther in the future.

Renguette is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where she is studying English. Renguette, who was also the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International’s Rider of the Year in 2011, has been riding once a week at the center for the last six years.

“She’s just amazing,” she said of Kubarth. “It’s just such a good idea for a therapy that doesn’t feel like therapy. It’s really awesome.”