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Bareback riding pad provides unexpected benefits

Simple device allows disabled riders to feel the horse's motion

By Ken Weingartner

The Packet Group

Sunday, Jan. 30, 2000

When Patrick Liquori designed the "El Companero" bareback riding pad about four years ago, he thought he was doing only himself a favor.

As it turns out, his versatile design has had widespread appeal, particularly with organizations geared toward disabled riders.

"To me, it was a selfish thing at first; it was for my purpose," said Mr. Liquori, a Washington Township resident and hairstylist who operates the Centreville Salon at 25 Church St. in Windsor.

"It turns out to be extremely beneficial to many people," he said. "Even for able-bodied riders. They say they've never experienced such contact and communication between their horse and themselves. We're just really excited about the people we can reach.

"When you can help someone so much in a physical sense, which reflects on their whole sense of self and making them feel they can do things they could never do before, it's really rewarding."

The pad is a thin piece of suede leather that is draped over the horse's back. The piece extends down both sides of the horse, reaching the area of the rider's calves. On the underside of the piece is a pocket in which various sizes of foam, from one to three inches, can be inserted.

Beth Klein, a resident of Millstone Township, has partnered with Mr. Liquori in producing and marketing El Companero. Earlier this month, Mr. Liquori received a patent for his design.

Mr. Liquori got the idea for the pad from American Indians who would drape a thin piece of leather over their horses in order to achieve a better union with their charges.

"The experience of being one in spirit with your horse out in the woods is in a sense losing yourself; becoming one with the woods and with your horse," Mr. Liquori said. "The pad was something created to aid me in obtaining that oneness."

Mr. Liquori said it was Ms. Klein, who after trying the El Companero herself, suggested marketing the product.

"We both agreed it was a gift to me that helped my life in many ways and my connection with my horse; to lose myself in order to find myself," Mr. Liquori said. "In losing yourself to all of it, you become one with it and then ultimately find the greater you."

An element of serendipity — or perhaps more accurately spiritual guidance — has followed Mr. Liquori during the process of bringing his pad to the public. While at a tack sale at Showplace Farms in Millstone, Barbara Isaac of the Handicapped High Riders in Upper Freehold set up a table next to Mr. Liquori and Ms. Klein.

"Barbara, being as intuitive as she is, after a few minutes of sitting there and looking at this strange, new product, came over," Mr. Liquori said. "She picked up every possible benefit the pad has to offer. It's been a relationship with Barbara ever since.

"She tends to be our mentor. She has a need for something, I fill the need and then she refines it and helps us to perfect it. People want to see us be successful. We've gotten a lot of help."

Ms. Isaac said the El Companero is beneficial for disabled riders because "the most important thing is feeling the horse's motion."

A horse's movement duplicates the "normal" movements made by an able-bodied person when walking. For people in wheelchairs, for example, there is no way for their bodies to experience this motion. Hippotherapy, a direct medical treatment with a horse and a trained physical therapist who is a certified riding instructor, can help.

Ms. Isaac, who had her instructors test the pad before purchasing several for the Handicapped High Riders program, said El Companero permitted riders to "get as close to the warmth of the horse and the horse's movement as they can be in a safe way."

Another benefit is the versatility, she said. The foam can be replaced when it breaks down, and can be adjusted to the special needs of its rider.

"It's such a wonderful piece of adaptive equipment for what we do," Ms. Isaac said. "It fits the mold of what we do. I'll help them in any way I can, they're so good to work with. This is an experiment in perfection, making this the best it can be."

While at a national convention for disabled riders, Mr. Liquori and Ms. Klein discovered additional applications for the pad. Because of the security offered by the suede, riders can do what is called vaulting — riding while facing backward, sitting sideways, lying down, rotating their arms and standing.

"Neither of us had ever heard of the term," Mr. Liquori said. "But, ironically, in our riding, in the freedom and oneness we experience with this pad, we have been inspired to do things that are an expression of freedom and oneness."

Added Ms. Klein, "We called it 'stupid circus tricks.' Nobody could see us, so we would do these things just for a game. Then we found out there was a name for it. It's exercise. We didn't know."

Continued Mr. Liquori, "Not only has this gift been given to us, but the uses have been shown to us, the benefits, without us even knowing. Not only was our choice with the handicapped directed, but the way it was going to be used."

Mr. Liquori has sold the pad to handicapped riding groups around the state and across the country. He also has received inquires from Israel and Holland. So far, he and Ms. Klein have produced approximately two dozen of the pads. It takes the duo five to six hours to complete one piece.

"We don't want to lose the personal touch," Mr. Liquori added. "We don't want to lose the ability to put ourselves into it. We're ready to be with it wherever it goes. As it grows, we're ready to grow with it. It's too personal to us.

"We would like to eventually have our own factory where we could oversee everyone. We'll be part of still making them. It's not for the sake of business that we want to go ahead with this. It's for what we can give of ourselves. I don't ever want to ever be separated from it."


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