METAMORA TWP. – Nearly $100,000 was raised Saturday evening as Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center hosted its 28th Annual Derby Day Celebration.
The fund-raiser was held in conjunction with the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
A total of 225 stylishly-dressed ladies and dapperly-attired gentlemen came to watch and wager on the big race, enjoy dinner and cocktails, and open their wallets for a great cause.
“(This event) truly does get us through the entire calendar year,” said Banbury Cross Executive Director Jessica Moore while addressing the crowd. “Your generosity means the world to us.”
Fund-raising is absolutely critical to keeping Banbury Cross going. For example, it costs more than $30,000 annually just to care for the center’s 13 horses.
Founded in 1991 and located at 1223 Brauer Rd., Banbury Cross uses therapeutic horseback riding to help students with special needs and challenges grow physically, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, educationally and socially.
The organization often works with special education students from the Oxford and Lapeer school districts.
Banbury Cross is fully-accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, a nonprofit organization that promotes equine-assisted activities and therapies for children and adults, including veterans, with special needs.
In addition to raising funds, the Derby Day Celebration honored two Banbury riders – Debora Solomon, a former Oxford resident who now lives in Lapeer, and Sterling Heights resident Gabe Vandelinder, who turns 13 next month.
“They’re both just such good (representatives) of what we are, what we do and what we strive to provide for our participants,” Moore said.
Solomon, 61, is completely deaf, the result of a childhood bout with measles and a high fever. She reads lips and speaks American Sign Language.
Solomon has been riding at Banbury Cross since 2015. According to Moore, Solomon has “grown tremendously as a rider” and is “a delight to have in classes.” She gives back to Banbury Cross by volunteering in the office, greeting other students as they arrive and acting as a mentor to new students and volunteers.
Speaking through an interpreter, Solomon told the crowd that Banbury has become her “second family.” Riding there has made her stronger, both physically and mentally, and given her more independence. She’s also found great personal satisfaction in her volunteer work there.
“I now have a special purpose in my life,” Solomon said. “Thank you to those who have kept Banbury running so that all of the riders have a special place. Happy trails.”
As for Vandelinder, Moore said, “He is the happiest child you have ever met.”
Vandelinder is non-verbal due to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, suffers from cognitive delay and has issues with balance and sensory processing.
Speaking on his son’s behalf, Greg Vandelinder said it’s “amazing” how much horseback riding has helped Gabe thrive. It’s improved his balance, core strength, motor control and problem-solving skills, he explained. It’s also made Gabe comfortable around horses.
“It’s really been quite a journey,” Greg said.
Prior to Banbury Cross, Gabe had never ridden horses or even been around them. Now, it’s difficult to get him out of the saddle.
“He’s really taken to it, like a fish to water,” Greg said. “He just loves it.”