Horsing around Equine Tradition Continues at St. James Homecoming

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Horsing around Equine Tradition Continues at St. James Homecoming


Byline: Megan Bannister mbannister@dailyherald.com

The clacking of hoofs and whinnying of mares were familiar sounds in the redbrick stables of St. James Farm for many decades.

So when the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County plays host to its annual homecoming celebration today at the farm near Warrenville, it seems only fitting horses will play a key role in commemorating the estate's extensive equestrian past.

Among the groups set to participate is the Winfield- based Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities, or FTEA, a nonprofit organization that specializes in therapeutic horseback riding programs for individuals with disabilities.

"We have the opportunity of making a difference in someone's life," said Nancy Winkelman, program director and riding instructor at FTEA.

While performers such as Mario Contreras Equestrian Fiesta Troupe and the Double L Miniature-Horse Driving Drill Team celebrate the international dressage and eventing competitions that once took place at the farm, FTEA will honor a different portion of the estate's traditions.

Although annual steeplechase races drew crowds of 10,000 to the estate in the 1980s, the more intimate therapeutic riding programs were not overlooked by the original caretakers of St. James Farm.

In 1974, owner Brooks McCormick hired John Davies to direct equestrian activities on the farm and, shortly thereafter, opened the St. James Riding School for the Handicapped.

As part of the homecoming celebration, Winkelman and the FTEA staff will offer short demonstrations of the activities and games typical for one of the program's 45-minute lessons.

"We definitely want to have the visitors be able to have a flavor for the big-ticket events that would have taken place as fundraising programs by the McCormicks," said Bonnie Olszewski, a public affairs specialist for the forest preserve district.

Purchased in 1920 by Chauncey McCormick, the St. James estate was sold to the forest preserve district in 2000 by son Brooks McCormick. McCormick maintained a life estate, allowing him to continue living on the 607-acre

property until his death in 2006.

Founded in July 1996, FTEA is an offshoot of the now defunct Friends of Handicapped Riders program started by Davies to bring a culture of therapeutic riding to the Chicago area. The organization offers weekly lessons to children and adults with both cognitive and physical disabilities to improve balance, sequencing and memorization, Winkelman said.

"Truly, our riding program is not to teach someone how to ride a horse," said Winkelman, who previously worked with Friends of Handicapped Riders for 10 years.

"It's just important that they get on a horse and feel the horse move underneath them. It's that movement that's really crucial in improving balance."

The program remains operational thanks to an extensive volunteer core group that help do everything from groom horses to walk alongside participants, Winkelman said.

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