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Therapeutic horseback riding helps kids with special needs

Students ride the horses free of charge due to community donations to the nonprofit Mitey Riders.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Harry Swimmer changes lives on his 83-acre property called Misty Meadows Farm. When talking about the land, Swimmer calls it “a little bit of heaven.” 

He’s 92 years old and still going strong. 

“Mitey Riders started 27 years ago,” Swimmer told WCNC Charlotte’s Sarah French.

Swimmer met a little girl in a wheelchair, and that’s when he got the idea.

“I said, I wonder what she'd be like on a horse," he said. "And I put her on a horse, and boy, she lit up. And I said -- this is for me.” 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Therapeutic horseback riding helping kids with special needs

Since then, nearly a thousand kids have been transformed through the power of therapeutic horseback riding. And once you start, you never age out. Swimmer lets them come for all long as they want, and the program is completely free to families.

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Chancellor Lee Adams has been a part of Mitey Riders for 12 years. He is the son of former Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth.

Chancellor’s grandmother, Sandra Adams, said she loves what horseback riding does for her grandson.

“The horses are so big and powerful,” Adams said. “It lets them know they can face anything and conquer big challenges.”   

She said the name "Mitey Riders" stands out to her.

“I love the name Mitey Riders because they are mighty riders!" Adams said. "So many people look at people with disabilities and think of what they can’t do and he [Swimmer] is showing them what we can do. It's not about, 'I’m disabled, I’m abled differently.'”

Credit: WCNC Charlotte
WCNC Charlotte volunteers spent the morning Tuesday, September 27, 2022 helping around the barn for Misty Meadows Mitey Riders. Mitey Riders is a 501c3 non-profit. Their budget is funded solely by the generous contributions of people in the community to offer therapeutic horseback riding at no charge for children with special needs.

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Swimmer said horses are "amazing animals" and can tell what is going on in a given environment.

"I had a great big horse, and I had a child on the horse, and it was in the ring and I was working the class," Swimmer recalled. "All of a sudden we turned around and looked and the horse stopped dead in his tracks. And we went over, and the little boy was having a seizure.” 

Swimmer started to get emotional remembering this moment. 

“The horse knew before we did," Swimmer added.

In 2016, Swimmer was recognized as a CNN Hero for his incredible work. He started it all with his wife of nearly 70 years.

“She really rode horses,” Swimmer said with a smile.

His wife, Marilyn Swimmer, passed away last year

Her memory and imprint everywhere you look at Misty Meadows.

Swimmer says he’ll be out there every day though, giving back to the kids who have changed his life forever.

ALSO ON WCNC CHARLOTTE: Kannapolis nonprofit helping those in need thanks to community donations

WCNC Charlotte anchor Ben Thompson shares more about Mitey Riders' impact on kids:

Carolyn Bruck shares more about the organization:

Carolyn Bruck gets another up-close look at how the Mitey Riders do their work:

Carolyn Bruck presents a special check for $5,000 from WCNC Charlotte and the TEGNA Foundation:

WCNC Charlotte forecaster Larry Sprinkle learns more from the program's leader:

Carolyn Bruck learns how one parent is impacted by Mitey Riders:

All students ride the horses free of charge thanks to generous donations to the nonprofit Mitey Riders from the community.  

WCNC Charlotte, the TEGNA Foundation, Steel Skin Realty and the Parham Family Foundation have donated $5,000 to Mitey Riders. If you’d like to make a difference and donate money to horseback therapy for special needs kids, click here.

Contact Sarah French at Sarah@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

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