Cedar Creek Riding Center

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COLUMBIA - Former U.S. Marine Eric Olson is used to brotherhood in service. Now he has formed a different kind of brotherhood with a horse named Huey.

"He means a lot to me, and we call him 'Baby Huey.' We get along great together," he said.

Huey is one of more than a dozen therapy horses that work at the Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center. Cedar Creek is a non-profit agency that has served the mid-Missouri area since 1988.

Huey and the other horses work with people with special needs, veterans like Olson and others to provide motion and sports therapy. Each rider works with a team of volunteers and a horse by exercising, learning how to ride and bonding.

Olson has worked with Huey since 2011. He had been a helicopter mechanic stationed in California. After he left service, he said, he dealt with stress issues and had a difficult time talking and connecting with people around him. Over the past five years, he said, all that changed.

"I became more sociable. I know a lot of the volunteers and stuff like that just kind of getting out and doing something," Olson said.

Connie Crumpton, an occupational therapist and also a certified therapeutic riding instructor at Cedar Creek, said Olson has completely transformed.

"He's learned to breathe and let go and trust the horse first, and then there was just so much happiness," Crumpton said.

She said almost all of the horses currently at Cedar Creek are donated by the public.

"Some people that maybe have children and can't find time to ride anymore, or maybe just want to give back. We give them great exercise and can't be more thankful. They really love their work," Crumpton said.

The spring session goes until May 6, and the Summer session will begin Aug. 7. Riders of all ages are welcome, and Crumpton said she hopes to impact as many lives as possible. 

"The physical therapists, the speech pathologists and occupational therapists are seeing these kids in other settings and are saying 'Oh my gosh. Once they started riding, everything started clicking," she said.