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A National Ability Center staffer helps a young participant during an equestrian demonstration during last year's barn dance. This year's event will be held on June 1 and will feature fun for the whole family. (Photos by Missy Gresen)
A quarter of a century ago the National Ability Center, a nonprofit organization that provides recreational activities for all abilities, started as an equestrian program with a couple of horses and a trainer in a backyard barn.

The goal was to help people who need physical and emotional therapy by using horses.

Throughout the past 25 years, the program has grown to serve children with spinal defects and Paralympic hopefuls in therapeutic riding, facilitated learning and hippotherapy, a physical, occupational or speech therapy treatment that uses the movements of the horse.

"We currently serve 70 participants on a weekly basis with our lessons and therapy treatments," said Marci Bender, manager of the equestrian programs, during an interview with The Park Record. "We also have drop-in participants and military groups that average anywhere from 10 to 25 people every couple of weeks."

In addition, the National Ability Center, also known as the NAC, has access to 15 horses, two of which are miniature horses that aren't ridden. The smaller ones are used in the facilitated program and groundwork lessons, Bender said.

To celebrate the program, the NAC will host a barn party on Saturday, June 1.

Activities will include dinner, a mechanical bull, riding demonstrations and line dancing. Children's activities will feature a bounce house, arts and crafts, rodeo clowns, a Li'l Buckaroo Parade and a petting zoo.

The event will also feature a silent auction, a barbeque dinner donated by Bandit's Grill & Bar and a whiskey saloon provided by High West Distillery.

Adult admission is $40 in advance and $50 after May 30. Tickets for youths ages 11 through 16 are $20 in advance and $25 after May 30. Children younger than 10 years old will be admitted for $5.

The money that will be raised through ticket purchases and the silent auction will benefit the National Ability Center's equestrian program, which is accredited through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, said Bender.

"The party, which is being held for people of all ages, is so important, because the fees paid by individuals to participate in our therapy programs only cover 20 to 25 percent of what it costs for each session," she explained. "We use the Barn Party funds to help offset the costs of the facility's overhead and utilities, but also, more importantly, the cost of the horses' veterinary care and food, so they can do their job as well as they can."

In addition, the NAC, which is one of the largest facilities in the country to provide recreational and sports opportunities to individuals with disabilities, has an indoor and outdoor arena that are sized to accommodate five riders at a time.

"We also have a round pen where we train the horses and for sessions with specific lessons and goals," Bender said.

In these venues, the National Ability Center's staff manages the horses' exercise, fitness and overall health, and also manages the participants' experiences as well.

"It's fun that way, because every day brings something different," Bender said.

In addition to the hands-on and interactive activities at the barn party, there will be, weather permitting, an outdoor equestrian demonstration that will showcase the NAC's adaptive riding and hippotherapy programs, Bender said.

"We want people to have a great time at the party, but also learn about some of the services we provide," she said. "We'll also have our staff on hand to answer any questions about what we do."

The National Ability Center will host its annual Barn Party at 1000 Ability Way at Quinn's Junction on Saturday, June 1, from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.discovernac.org/2013barnparty/ or call (435) 649-3991. For more information about the National Ability Center, visit www.discovernac.org.