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Posted August 10, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Horse show will benefit hospital fund

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Robin Hall, owner of Shenandoah River Farm
Robin Hall, owner of Shenandoah River Farm in Strasburg, walks beside Austin Miller, 6, of Middletown, during an introductory horse-riding class Monday. The facility is hosting the Heels Down Open Summer Horse Show on Saturday to benefit the Josh Scruggs hospital fund. Rich Cooley/Daily

Christiana Cole takes a break with Bethany Emswiller
Christiana Cole, 7, of Edinburg, takes a break with Bethany Emswiller, 13, of Maurertown, and Black Beauty at Shenandoah River Farm in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Bethany Hanson rides Hot Fudge
Bethany Hanson, 9, of Lenoir, N.C., rides Hot Fudge around the ring Monday at Shenandoah River Farm. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG -- The true test of friendship is the lengths to which a friend will go, or in this case jump, to come to the aid of another.

For Anita Scruggs, of Mt. Jackson, and Robin Hall, of Strasburg, their friendship began with a shared passion for horses -- and Hall plans to use that passion for the benefit of her friend.

The Heels Down Open Summer Horse Show will take place at Hall's Shenandoah River Farm, at 82 Island Ford Lane in Strasburg, and will serve many purposes, says Hall, owner and trainer at the farm.

It is unique not only because of the variety of equine events, but also because it will serve as a benefit for Scruggs' son, Josh. All proceeds from the horse show will go to his medical fund.

"I've never even had a show like this," Hall says.

Hall came up with the idea for the horse show as a benefit after learning about Josh Scruggs' accident. His mother had been friends with Hall for six years through the Shenandoah Valley Dressage Association.

Josh Scruggs, 22, fell on the steps in front of his parents' house in May, lacerating his spleen and kidney.

After three surgeries over the course of two weeks, his hospital bills grew past $60,000 but the medical center paid all the bills through its charity program, says Anita Scruggs, who works for Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.

"The hospital bills have been taken care of through the hospital, but the doctor bills have not," she says. Her son, recently unemployed from a job as a plumber in Manassas and Fairfax, had no way to pay the bills.

"Of course the economy being what the economy is," Anita Scruggs says, her son's accident happened at the most inconvenient time.

"He's doing better," says Hall, whose visit to Winchester Medical Center in May inspired her to organize a benefit horse show for him. "I just think he was such a nice, sweet guy. ... I just couldn't believe he was in there [in the hospital]," she says.

"A horse show will be a drop in the bucket," Hall says, but she hopes making people aware of the fund in Josh Scruggs' name will encourage them to donate.

"I'm gonna give all the money to him, so hopefully it will encourage him, pay some of his bills," she says. Hall asks that checks be made payable to Anita Scruggs.

"She is very encouraging," Anita Scruggs says. "Robin's renewed my faith in the human race. She is my angel.

"But it's something very special that she's doing, very special, because she's had her times too."

"It's called an open show, because it has western riding, not just English," says Hall.

The facility does hunt seat and dressage, both forms of English riding, she says. Hall hosts a horse show at her farm every year, but they were never as elaborate and always involved English riding only. She also runs Heels Down Summer Riding Camp each year and gives riding lessons year-round.

"It's very unusual to team two disciplines," she says.

"I've never developed a horse show, a judge is helping me," she says. "I've been in many, many shows but I've never put one on."

Hall will also host, and ShenVADA will co-sponsor the event along with Southern States of Strasburg, Possum Hollar Farms Country Tack Shop and Wild Bill's Western and English Things.

She believes those participating in the show will have a lot of fun.

"They can wear polos and no jackets," she says, stressing that dressing down is especially helpful during summer weather when it's just too hot to comfortably wear riding jackets.

Normally $15 each, classes at the Heels Down Open Summer Horse Show will be $8 each. Hall hopes the reduction in price will encourage riders to sign up for more classes. The show will offer 39 different classes, including Hunter In-Hand, Beginner Walk/Trot, Pony Hunter Under Saddle and Western Pleasure Walk/Trot.

Hall will raffle off a gigantic stuffed animal horse, which she describes as bigger than life-size.

"Also we're going to have really good food for sale," she says, including hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and desserts.

Champions will be recognized with a plaque for Show Champion High Point Rider, Show Champion High Point Horse, High Point Western Rider and High Point English Rider. Gifts will be given to all beginners and division champions.

"There's something for everyone, it's for all ages, all skill levels," she says.

Having built up her career as a horse trainer locally over the last seven years, Hall has spotted some new hurdles on the horizon.

She also plans to return shortly to her other career in the medical field. Before moving to Virginia seven years ago she worked at Duke University's medical center.

"I'm a psychologist also, and I practiced for 23 years," she says, explaining she worked with abused women and with other women's' issues.

She hopes to incorporate both interests into one career in equine-assisted psychotherapy, which has become more popular in the mid- to far West but is still new to the East Coast.

"It's very effective for children with autism and Asperger syndrome and attention deficit disorder and anxiety and depression," she says.

"It really helps them" she says, describing a child with cerebral palsy who was helped during her sessions with horses.

"When I put her on a horse at first, I never thought I'd be able to get her to ride," Hall says. The girl, now 12, is a camp counselor at Shenandoah River Farm and rides in competitions.

Hall believes in the emotional powers of horses "because horses are the greatest healing animals ever," she says. "Horses are so amazing and they so reflect your emotions and your fears and your anxieties and your anger," she says.

"Horses are conditional," she says. They give right back what you give to them.

"That's why you should never ride when you're angry, because they think you're upset with them," she says. "Assume as you sit in the saddle, the horse knows all about your day."

Hall hopes to begin her practice, Renewing the Mind, on Nov. 1.

"I really feel like God is just asking me to get back into the field," she says.

The Heels Down Open Summer Horse Show will take place at Shenandoah River Farm, at 82 Island Ford Lane in Strasburg, on Aug. 15. Schooling is available from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m., and classes begin at 8 a.m. California warm-ups are available all day, and classes are $8 each. Ribbons will be awarded to first- through sixth-place riders, and division champions will receive gifts. Lauren Myers will judge the events.

For more information visit the Web at www.shenandoahriverfarm.com or call 327-9477.

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