Remembering Mark, Therapeutic Riding Horse
Last December, Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Therapeutic Riding program lost a dear friend. Mark, a long-term therapy horse in the program, passed away peacefully in the Therapy Barn, surrounded by his friends and “co-workers” who loved and cherished him dearly. He was 35 years old.
Mark, the Favorite Teacher
The Center first met Mark in June, 2010, when he was leased to the Therapeutic Riding program as a therapy horse. Mark (Magic Marker) had an extensive background as a student lesson horse, and was known to have an amazing work ethic, a patient demeanor and an intuitiveness for teaching student riders of all skill levels. His specialty was flat work and jumping. He was forgiving of honest errors but he didn’t “give away” good rides. He made his students work for them, which is what made him such a good teacher. His riders got better, growing in their skills because he gave them an opportunity to practice and use them, with real results.
Mark was responsive to his students, but he was also fun to ride, and was often in high demand when the riding school held their “in house” shows.
Mark’s Career as a Therapy Horse
When Mark began his career as a therapy horse, he took to it right away. He loved to put on “grumpy airs,” especially to younger or more energetic horses, but the truth is he loved the people he worked with, and he loved his students. You could see a change in his face when students approached, a brightness that showed his pleasure.
His pleasure of having a purpose every day was evident
As Mark got older, his work ethic and excitement for lessons never waned. Gretchen, the Center’s Therapeutic Riding Manager, recalls the question of Mark’s retirement, “I was often asked when we would retire Mark, considering his advancing age. I always answered, not until he tells me to! His pleasure at having a purpose every day was evident. I truly believe it was part of what kept him healthy and able to be ridden for so many years.”
Just last year, Mark was honored by PATH International as being one of the top therapy horses in the world. He was given the title of “Region 11 Equine of the Year.” All who knew him celebrated his grand achievement, even though Mark never required any honors. He just wanted to keep teaching his beloved students.
Mark is greatly missed by all who knew him: students, staff and volunteers. He will forever live on in our hearts and memories. We invite you to read Mark’s tributes and memories, given to us by the students, staff, and volunteers who loved him. If you have any memories or stories about Mark, we would love to read them. Please post them below or on our Facebook page.
Memories and Tributes to Mark
The Cortese Family
“The relationship between Luke and his horse, Mark, was a very special one. Mark was a sweet, wise and committed four-legged therapist and friend. Luke rode Mark every week and he always looked forward to getting out for a ride. Mark’s steadiness, smooth gait, exceptional manners always made Luke feel confident when taking the reins. Luke liked to wiggle around a bit while on Mark’s back, but Mark always knew when to adjust or to stay calm. At the end of their ride each week, Mark would lean around to make sure he could grab one last glance or nuzzle with Luke. He was a very special horse and beloved partner who exceeded everyone’s expectations. We have taken more than 100 pictures over the course of their time riding together, Mark is sure to live on in our home and in our hearts for years to come.”
Shannon, Student Rider
By Shannon W.
At the top of the mounting block I stand.
I see my horse pull up.
Over the horse I stretch my leg.
In the arena the pain is unbearable but my leg settles down.
Through the gate I go.
I should “trot Mark” and he obeys.
On his back I hear his hooves hit the ground and I go.
During the trot I become uneasy, but then I smile.
Near the gate I feel him stop.
And I can’t believe it’s over.
Michele, Therapeutic Riding Volunteer
“Mark was as blessed as were those who knew him, loved him, and taught by him. A life well-lived and one that brings so much joy and benefit to the lives of others is a goal that we all should reach for… and to accomplish this without expectation of credit or accolade is a rare enough trait in people, but a gift that horses, as well as other animals, can give to us.”
Emily, mother to Student Rider, Livie
“Livie absolutely loved riding Mark. His gentle nature and slow gallops were perfect for Livie as a small new rider. She would always skip up on him to ride. I know she misses him.”
Gretchen, Therapeutic Riding Manager
“There are many things I miss about Mark: the way he would follow you around his stall when you were cleaning, nickering under his breath for you to give him a treat; the way he still played like a young horse in turnout; the way I could depend on him to take care of any student, in any circumstance. The thing that strikes me the most is that, for the better part of 15 years, every day when I went to work, I had this amazing equine as a partner. I’ll miss that more than anything else.”
Gina, Therapeutic Riding Instructor
“In 2014, there was a young girl with cerebral palsy who started our program. Most of us believed it would be awhile before this very independent-minded girl would be independent on a horse, due to needing time to build balance and core strength. At least, we thought that until we put her on Mark.
Within just a few months of riding Mark, she was able to go off lead, walking and trotting on her own with just a spotter close by. This was in large part due Mark’s careful, intuitive nature. If he felt her struggle to stay centered, he slowed or even moved underneath her to help. Though her legs were not the strongest, he responded gladly to her leg and voice cues when prompted to go.
Mark built connections with all his riders, regardless of their challenge: emotional, physical, or cognitive. He made a positive impact on them all.”
Linda, Therapeutic Riding Volunteer
“One day, there was a student who was having trouble with reining. Mark seemed to pick right up on the student’s difficulty, being extra patient, slow, deliberate, and giving the student added chances to get it right. When it came time to weave the cones, which required perfectly-timed turns, he took it upon himself to take charge, weaving in and out without requiring the student to do anything at all. He might’ve looked like a grump sometimes, but truly he was just a big softy. I miss him.”