Nancy Hohmann, M.A.T.'70, is out riding her horse.
Nancy Hohmann, M.A.T.'70, remembers fondly the two summers she spent working as a horseback-riding counselor at a now-closed Vermont camp for special needs children.
"Those summers had a deep influence on me," she says. So deep, in fact, that decades later, after a long career as a foreign language teacher, Hohmann finds herself working in a remarkably similar setting. She discovered Riding to the Top, a therapeutic riding center in Windham, Maine, in 2004 when researching volunteer opportunities in her area. "I was seeking a worthwhile retirement career," she says. After volunteering for two years, she became certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Asscociation (NARHA), just a couple of months prior to her retirement.
The transition from teaching to therapeutic riding is a natural one for Hohmann, seeing as the latter combines her love of teaching with her lifelong love of horses. And her past career comes into play often.
"In every facet of teaching at Riding to the Top, I am aided by my public school experience," she says. "Every public school teacher needs a plan A and a kit with plans B, C, D, and sometimes E at the ready. ... With horses, volunteers, and weather conditions affecting the challenged rider/learner at all times, a toolkit of alternative things to do and the flexibility to respond immediately are extremely important."
Riding to the Top welcomes riders with various conditions -- including epilepsy, Asperger syndrome, physical abnormalities, and emotional issues, to name a few -- and Hohmann approaches each with a unique plan and perspective. For all riders she writes behavioral goals and develops lesson plans that will help her to challenge them to meet their potentials. But she is quick to point out that it is the students who truly make their own success. "Mostly, I just get out of the way and let the magic happen," she says.
An example of this magic occurred with a young epileptic rider whose severe learning disabilities in math were causing her problems in learning certain rhythms and routines. "One lesson, I suggested she bring some music and we would work out a freestyle program she could ride to the music," Hohmann says. "She arrived the next week, put a song in the CD player, and proceeded to ride a perfectly choreographed program, stopping in the center of the arena precisely as the music ended. I have never figured out how she did that."
Despite her many success stories, Hohmann reacted with "total disbelief" when she learned that she had been named the 2009 National Instructor of the Year by NARHA. "Winning the regional award was a pretty big surprise, but winning the national was amazing," she says. "It is both humbling and gratifying to know I am making a difference."
Photo: Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College