Friday, August 11, 2023

RTT rider’s determination to overcome MS leads to 2023 Adult Equestrian of the Year award

By Kelly Johnson
Special to The Windham Eagle

At Riding To The Top’s 14th annual Triple B celebration last fall, Debbie Hutchinson of Raymond shared her emotional story of navigating life with Multiple Sclerosis and how riding horses at the Windham facility has improved her physical heath and that her relationship with a horse there has boosted her emotional well-being. Hutchinson’s efforts to overcome MS at RTT have led to her being honored by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International as its 2023 Adult Equestrian of the Year.

Riding To The Top rider Debbie Hutchinson
shows her equine partner Paxton her award
as 2023 Adult Equestrian of the Year by the
Professional Association of Therapeutic
Horsemanship International.
Hutchinson has been dealing with MS for 30 years and has been a client of RTT for the past three years. She’s experienced struggles with balance and spasticity which affect her ability to walk, but something magical began to happen to her when she was partnered with an RTT mare named Paxton.

“When I’m riding Paxton, I don’t have MS,” she said.

According to Hutchinson, working with Paxton at RTT has not only helped her to deal with her MS more effectively and has also given her a new support network to deal with MS through the friendships that she’s forged with the staff and volunteers at RTT.

Multiple Sclerosis is an immune-mediated disease producing an abnormal response of the body’s immune system which attacks the central nervous system by mistake. The immune system attack damages the body’s myelin, the substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers and the cells that make it. Without myelin to protect nerve fibers, they are also damaged. This can lead to a range of unpredictable symptoms such as tingling, numbness, pain, fatigue, memory problems and paralysis.

Riding To The Top (RTT), a Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham, was founded in 1993 and its mission is to enhance health and wellness through equine assisted services. More than 250 clients each year are impacted and assisted by a team of certified instructors, a herd of 17 horses and nearly 100 volunteers, all specially trained to assist with therapeutic riding, carriage driving and Physical Therapy/Occupational Therapy using equine movement. It is Maine’s only facility that is accredited by Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (Path Intl.).

The RTT facility is a community-based nonprofit and receives no federal or state funding while providing scholarships to more than 60 percent of clients who avail themselves of equestrian services offered there.

Hutchinson’s efforts to not let MS control her life drew notice and admiration from everyone she has worked with at RTT.

“From her first entry to our center, Debbie's grit and determination were as obvious as her wide smile, said Kate Jeton, RTT program director. “She has formed an amazing bond with her horse and without assistance is able to walk and trot, modulating rhythm and pace and creating bend in her horse’s body, in spite of not being able to effectively use her right leg. Her feel for her horse is obvious and her elation is infectious."

The riding team that works directly with Hutchinson said she’s truly inspirational and deserving of the 2023 Equestrian of the Year honor.

"I’ve had the pleasure of working with Debbie for several years. She performs her pre-ride warm up with tenacity, enthusiasm, and determination to assure a successful lesson,” said Susan Layton, RTT team member. “She deals with the stress of her condition daily, but when she is sitting high on her horse, her focus is on establishing a close connection with her horse, achieving horsemanship skills, and the pure joy of riding. Her constant smile says it all."

Her achievements riding Paxton also gained the attention of Path Intl., which leads the national advancement of professional equine-assisted services by supporting members and stakeholders through rigorously developed standards, credentialing and education.

“As an international voice in the equine-assisted services (EAS) industry, PATH Intl. has a responsibility to recognize individuals and equines that symbolize our celebration of ability, optimism, diversity, and a shared love of equines,” said Alyson Thrasher, PATH’s Membership and Education Representative. “Exceptional equestrians who join in the excitement offered by EAS are a testament to the power of the horse to change lives. Debbie Hutchinson is an outstanding representative of the PATH Intl. adult equestrian community.”

To learn more about Riding To The Top’s client services, volunteering, or making a gift to RTT, visit or call 207-892-2813. <

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