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Marjorie Kittredge, 86; equestrian therapy pioneer

Mrs. Kittredge started Windrush Farm in Boxford with “three horses, five emotionally challenged/learning disabled boys, and a handshake,’’ the farm’s website says.
Mrs. Kittredge started Windrush Farm in Boxford with “three horses, five emotionally challenged/learning disabled boys, and a handshake,’’ the farm’s website says.
By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / July 5, 2010

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Marjorie Vietor Kittredge could ride a horse soon after she learned to walk. She did not stop riding until she was 85.

For many of those years, she used her love of riding and her vast knowledge of all things equestrian to help those who were physically or emotionally disabled. Her philosophy, her family said, was “everyone can do more than they think they can.’’

In 1964, she partnered with Mrs. Gifford’s School for Emotionally Disturbed Children to begin what is now Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation Inc. in Boxford. There, many people from toddlers to senior citizens have found that the bond between horse and rider can often be more healing than any prescribed treatment.

Mrs. Kittredge, considered an international pioneer in the field of the therapeutic benefit of riding, died of cancer on June 23 in the home of one of her daughters in Roxbury, Vt. She was 86, and had lived in Boxford since 1950.

“She knew that the combination of horses and nature could help to strengthen the bodies, sharpen the minds, and heal the souls of children and adults afflicted with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities,’’ said her son, Charles, of Shelburne, Vt. His mother, he added, “was determined to use horses to challenge those with disabilities to realize their potential.’’

“Marj was a pioneer in the therapeutic riding industry,’’ said Amanda Hogan, Windrush executive director. “She helped to write the first manual, ‘Aspects and Answers,’ to guide folks who wanted to start their own programs, created a national organization called NARHA [North American Riding for the Handicapped Association] to set standards and guidelines for those in the industry, and continued to be actively involved in guiding the national organization as well as helping her own program grow.’’

Paul A. Spiers of Danvers, a neuropsychologist and president of Windrush’s board of directors, had donated two of his polo ponies to Windrush before an accident in 1994, when he fell from his horse while fox hunting. He suffered head trauma and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he later participated himself in the Windrush therapy.

“Marj got me to ride,’’ he said. He later helped launch at Windrush a national program called Horses for Heroes, which is specifically for war veterans disabled by combat injuries or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Marjorie Vietor was born in New York City, where her father, Frederick A., was commander of Squadron A, a group of young gentlemen active in the equestrian sport. She graduated from the Brearley School, a private school in New York City, and from Vassar College. After college, her family said, she served in Korea in the 1940s with the American Red Cross.

She married Charles J. Kittredge in 1948. The marriage ended in divorce after 12 years, her son said. In 1991, Mrs. Kittredge married Dr. John Carr. Mrs. Kittredge maintained the surname of her first husband, her son said, because that is how she was known in her work.

Her son said she was inspired to establish Windrush after her involvement with the Outward Bound program.

She started Windrush Farm with “three horses, five emotionally challenged/learning disabled boys, and a handshake,’’ the farm’s website says.

“Marj increased the number of classes and expanded her riding program until Windrush became one of the first centers in a new national organization [NARHA] that she also helped to found,’’ according to the website.

Word of the work being done at Windrush spread worldwide. In 1996, Mrs. Kittredge served as horsemaster at the International Paralympics in Atlanta. In 2000, she officiated at the International Paralympics in Sydney. She also was qualified as a judge by the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee and judged events in England, Denmark, and Croatia.

“The big thing the riding does,’’ Mrs. Kittredge told the Globe in 1987, “is to give people a positive attitude toward themselves. If a little kid can make a big horse do what he wants . . . it creates a sense of mastery.’’

A Boston Globe story captured the kindness and caring of Mrs. Kittredge. One boy named Chuck was having a hard time putting a saddle on a pony named Star. He had trouble focusing on a task and thinking it through. Mrs. Kittredge “talked quietly and patiently to him, reassuring and urging him on as Chuck struggled with each buckle and strap. She was kind, but demanding, refusing either to let Chuck do a sloppy job or to step in herself and take over. When he finally had the pony saddled and bridled, Chuck threw his arms around its neck, kissed it, and said, ‘I love this horse.’ ’’

Another of Mrs. Kittredge’s beliefs, friends said, was “if you don’t try things you’re afraid of, you miss out on a lot in life.’’

In addition to her son, Mrs. Kittredge leaves two daughters, Lucinda Sullivan of Roxbury, Vt., and Ellen Scott of Chester Springs, Pa.; four stepchildren; 12 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

A service will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. in Cochran Chapel in Andover.