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Blackie, a well-known therapy horse of Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center in Toano, died peacefully Friday, May 6, 2016 at the age of 32.
The Virginia-bred, black quarter horse had been an ambassador to horseback-riding therapy for people with special needs for the past 18 years.
In 1998, Sally Derrig, Blackie’s owner and the previous executive director of Dream Catchers, loaned him to Cumberland Landing Therapeutic Riding Center, which evolved into Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Center.
Since then, Blackie transformed the lives of thousands of people who were challenged with a diverse set of special needs, including cerebral palsy, cancer, dementia and autism to name a few. The gentle giant seemed to have a special knack for putting people at ease.
“He had a particular fondness for people in wheelchairs, ” said Nancy Paschall, executive director of Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center, “When he would greet his riders, he’d put his head in their laps and take a moment to say hello, putting his rider at ease.”
In 1999, Blackie took a retreat from his regular work schedule to compete with a student rider from Finland in the International Special Olympics in Raleigh, N.C. Though the two had never ridden together, they won several ribbons and earned a silver medal in the dressage competition.
“He was just different, he knew his job,” Derrig said. “He was extraordinary. I’ve never seen a horse like that before in my life.”
Those who haven’t been to the riding center to see Blackie may recognize him from the annual Williamsburg Holiday Parade; he had been a participant for close to two decades.
Since his passing, Blackie’s admirers have been gracing his stall with flowers and condolences.
“We’ve had horses that have passed before, but he’s been here 18 years,” Derrig said.” He’s been here longer than any employee. He will be missed.”
A remembrance garden in Blackie’s honor will be constructed near the riding center where children ride.
A celebration of Blackie’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center, 10120 Fire Tower Road, Toano.