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Personality Portrait

Nancy Hohmann: NARHA Instructor of the Year

By Leanne Ouimet

It's not often when a late-night phone call brings good news but Nancy Hohmann recently got the news of a lifetime. Out of 11 regions, 782 centers and 3,516 instructors, she was named as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association's Instructor of the Year. Although Hohmann has been a riding instructor at Riding to the Top, a therapeutic riding center in Windham, for four-and-a-half years, the news still came as quite a surprise.

''I thought ''How could I have gotten this?''' she said. ''I immediately started crying and said ''No way. It can't be true.' But I felt very humbled and honored.''

Hohmann, who lives in Norway, started volunteering at Riding to the Top in 2004 and after a year and a half decided she wanted to become a certified riding instructor. She works at the center two days a week and despite an hour-long commute, said it's all worth it.

''I started volunteering to see if this was something I was interested in but I knew it would be,'' she said. ''Coming to Riding to the Top was perfect for me because it incorporated my love of horses with my love of teaching.''

Riding to the Top began providing therapeutic riding services to people with disabilities in 1993 and has been located in Windham since 1998. Over 60 people of all ages volunteer at the center every week and well over 6,000 volunteer hours are logged each year, said Sarah Bronson, executive director of Riding to the Top.

''Everyone who rides here is an inspiration to me, the volunteers too,'' Hohmann said. ''We couldn't do it without the volunteers. Their dedication is amazing. They really get our focus and come on a regular basis to help us.''

What sets Hohmann apart from the rest, and what she said was probably a key factor in why she won Instructor of the Year, was that she incorporates a theme into each lesson she teaches. Whether it's Harry Potter, snowmen, or the Kentucky Derby, she makes sure her riders stay excited and entertained, but all the while making sure they're learning too.

''I don't want to be bored and I don't want to be boring so I think of things that are interesting and fun,'' she said. ''People ask how I think of (a theme) every day but I just say to them ''How do you not?'''

At every lesson, Hohmann works with riders of all ages and also faces the challenge of working with the different mental or physical disabilities her riders live with, such as autism, epilepsy, Down syndrome, and ADHD, as well as those suffering from emotional issues.

''Seeing the kids smile and have fun and succeed is the best,'' she said. ''And sometimes it is just a smile. Some kids are non-verbal so when they sit down, they just smile so big.''

Riders get involved in the grooming and tacking of the horses, as much as they're able to, and some also learn to lead the horses, make a horse turn or step sideways and how to hold on to the reigns. There's also a lot of exercise and stretching that benefits riders who need that type of therapy, she said, and as riders progress, they learn to use their legs more than just their hands.

''Over the course of time, the changes can be quite dramatic if you look at the big picture, like if a child doesn't speak and begins to speak or if a rider has poor balance and gets more balance,'' she said. ''A rider might have emotional issues and not be able to put a halter on a horse but is now saddling and bridling a horse independently. It's incredible.''


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