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Fall fest brings horses, families together

From left: Mary Chidester 11 Elburn amd EmmFirszt 9 Elgpose with Bailey quarter horse used for therapeutic riding. | Denise

From left: Mary Chidester, 11, of Elburn amd Emma Firszt, 9, of Elgin pose with Bailey, a quarter horse used for therapeutic riding. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 30, 2012 6:16AM

ELBURN — Families from St. Mary Catholic Church and School in Elgin drove out to Over the Reinbow therapeutic riding center at Green Pastures Farm in Elburn on Saturday afternoon for the farm’s first Fall Fun Festival.

The festival included pony rides, bake sale, music, games, scarecrow-making and horse-painting.

Jim Feece of Feece Farm in Elburn brought his team of horses so that children could enjoy a ride in his covered grain wagon.

Mike Firszt and his family belong to St. Mary Catholic Church and School in Elgin. It was his idea to hold the festival at the farm.

His daughter, Emma, 9, has Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and some visual processing problems. Emma started coming to Over the Reinbow seven months ago.

“Boomer is her main horse,” Mike said. “Emma moved from no knowledge of horses to riding independently. It’s amazing what she has done here.”

Peter Praetz and Robyn Draper-Praetz, co-founders of the non-profit Over the Reinbow, started their therapeutic riding center in California in 2008. They moved the school to the 11-acre Elburn farm in September, 2011.

The farm has an indoor/outdoor arena, several pastures, and a hay field. Peter and Robyn’s daughter, Rachel, lives with them on the farm.

“We wanted to come to Illinois because our sons, Aaron and Noah, and their families live in Bolingbrook and La Grange,” said Peter. “Our grandchildren are: Patrick, Kate, Owen, Fiona and Maddie. The grandchildren like to come here and ride the horses.”

Over the Reinbow’s mission is “to enrich the quality of life for children and adults with special needs through the gentle guidance of our horses.”

The center works with students who are dealing with autism spectrum disorders, developmental and learning disabilities, mental health conditions, and other medical, emotional or relationship challenges.

According to the center, its students gain greater self confidence and self esteem, balance and coordination, strength and agility, more focused attention and concentration, social skills, reduced anxiety and depression, and the joy of riding.

“We try to get the students to be independent,” said Robyn. “We currently have seven students, nine horses and 15 volunteers. Students come from places like St. Charles, Batavia, Elburn and Cortland. We are accepting donated horses that are older and have been used with children or used as a lesson horse. The horse must be able to accept side walkers and must be willing to be led.”

Some of the horses at the center are: Freya, a 10-year-old Percheron; Boomer, a 27-year-old quarter horse; Mischief, a 39-year-old, blind, quarter Palamino whose companion horse is Henry; Rosie, a 10-year-old Mustang; and Dreamcatcher, a 17-year-old Arabian/quarter horse.

“Rosie was wild during her first six months of life,” Robyn said. “We trained her, and she is now very gentle. Freya was adopted from a farm where she was tied up, impregnated and used for producing estrogen as hormone replacement for women.”

Over the Reinbow is seeking volunteers who are 16 or older with a love of horses. Over the Reinbow needs side walkers, lead walkers, groomers and people to help with facility maintenance and projects.

Attendees of the Fall Fun Festival enjoyed spending time at the farm.

“This was the first fall festival for both Over the Reinbow and St. Mary Church and School,” said Mike Andrews, president of St. Mary’s Home and School Association. “It was our opportunity to support another non-profit organization. We want to bring a greater sense of community to our school and will partner with other groups.”

For example, there will be a movie night at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 16, at the St. Mary School gymnasium. Attendees should bring donations of food and/or clothing for their admission fee.

For more information on St. Mary Home and School Association, contact Barbara Colandrea at (847) 695-6623.

For more information on Over the Reinbow, contact

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