Autistic teen finds new strength with rescued horse

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJuly 15, 2012 

When Sabrina Christensen is on horseback, all her cares and stress melt away.

The 16-year-old is autistic and has severe scoliosis, so her lower back was surgically fused. Those two challenges can make riding difficult for her.

"But when she's had a rough day, riding takes the world away," said her mom, Gina Rees of Richland.

A pediatric nurse, Rees knew the rocking motion of riding often calms autistic children. So about seven years ago, she bought Sabrina her first horse, Sprocket, a registered Appaloosa.

"We found riding makes Sabrina calmer and more collected," she said.

Both mom and daughter were devastated when Sprocket became ill and had to be euthanized June 18.

"I didn't think we'd ever see a smile on her face again after that," said her mother. But Sabrina's been sporting a big grin lately, thanks to Charmer, her new horse.

The chestnut Charmer stands 5-feet-3 inches at the shoulder, a lot taller than Sprocket, who was 4-feet-5.

"I have to stand on my tippy toes to brush his back. I might have to get a stool," the 5-foot teen said.

Sabrina adopted Charmer July 9 from Spot-O-Faith, a horse rescue farm in Pasco run by Linda Christiano. The 19-year-old registered Quarterhorse was living neglected and hungry in Finley when the owners surrendered him to Christiano.

"He needed attention, some dental work and plenty of groceries," Christiano said.

He also needed a new forever home, one he found with Sabrina at the Richland Riders Club where he's boarded.

Charmer began his riding career as a race horse named Onwego Rapid Fire.

"He ran two races and came in dead last both times. Now he's a pleasure riding horse," Christiano said, adding that Charmer has been ridden in numerous horse shows and is highly trained.

Sabrina plans to ride him in 4-H competitions. She's been a member of the Paradise Ponies 4-H Club for almost five years.

"I like competing. It's fun. I like to be with the other kids," she said.

Between shows, Sabrina said she rides almost every day.

"Horses are fun to be around. Yes, they're big but they don't scare me," Sabrina said.

Reese said Charmer is the perfect horse for her daughter.

"Sprocket had a mind of his own. They'd be riding one way and suddenly he'd turn and go completely the opposite direction," Reese said. "She's only ridden Charmer a few times but already I feel more confident he was the right choice."

As for Sabrina, she'll always love her first horse but Charmer already has worked his magic on her horse-loving heart.

"I love him. I love his character and personality. He's the best horse for me," she said.

For more information on Spot-O-Faith Farm, go to

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