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Touched by history 

THERE ARE MOMENTS, it seems, when the worn hand of history reaches through a window of time and gently touches the present. 

It happens often at the former John Curd estate in Jessamine County where, in 1780, Curd, a Revolutionary War captain and emissary for Patrick Henry, settled on a land grant that once encompassed 36,000 acres. Part of his land was surveyed by legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone, a copy of whose signature on the survey receipt rests atop a mantel in the original brick home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The place now belongs to Anthony and Rita Nicholson and, perhaps in a broader sense, to a small herd of horses and ponies, a few sheep, donkeys, barn cats, a dog named Lily and an adoring number of youngsters with special needs who are part of a therapeutic riding group from the surrounding region. The Nicholsons’ daughter, Ami, who has Down syndrome, responded well to therapy riding when she was younger, and her parents later developed their own therapeutic riding program, Steps and Strides, on what now is 80-plus acres at the heart of the property. 

“They know how to work with children who have challenges,” says Marcia Faulkner Jones of Jessamine County, whose son Matthew has Lowe syndrome. “This isn’t just a business with them; this is a lifestyle. As soon as we turn onto that road, Matthew is a bundle of joy.” 

Each week in good weather about 35 riders receive individual attention either from Rita—a certified therapeutic riding instructor—or from two certified assistants and a corps of caring volunteers. In summer, even the Nicholson’s son, Jason, a university professor in Georgia, returns to help on the farm. But the heartbeat of the storied estate these days is the interaction of special needs youngsters with the eight therapy horses at Steps and Strides. 

“My goal is one-on-one lessons that are really impacting that student and not doing lots of group lessons, because you can’t really give the attention to five or six students like you can one,” Rita explains. “We have a waiting list.” 

Before riding, she says, most youngsters are able to brush the horses and handle some tack, which helps improve their fine motor skills. Those with more complex challenges receive different levels of therapy. Animals are trained extensively before they are paired with riders. 

Anthony, a technologist with The Jockey Club, and Rita, both consumer-members of Blue Grass Energy Cooperative, often share their time and their ponies with Pony Tales reading programs at area elementary schools. And they are always welcomed with smiles when they visit the nearby Thomson-Hood Veterans Center with a miniature horse. 

Many other horses are boarded at the Nicholsons’ farm, but it’s the therapy horses—with such names as Moose, Peanut and Batman—that add another important bit of history to the place each time a youngster with special needs finishes his or her first horseback ride and whispers, “I did it. 

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