An encounter in Harry Swimmer's local grocery store parking lot changed his life more than 20 years ago. He met a girl in a wheelchair named Stacy. She was deaf and nonverbal. Swimmer learned she had cerebral palsy.
It gave him an idea.
"I wondered what might happen if I put her on a horse," said Swimmer, who owns a farm near Charlotte, North Carolina.
Stacy and her grandmother visited his farm, where Swimmer helped her ride a pony.
"She just lit up like a candle," said Swimmer. "That's when I knew what I wanted to do."
Soon after, Swimmer retired from the insurance industry, and he and his wife turned their lucrative for-profit horse farm into a nonprofit oasis for children with special needs.
Now, at age 86, Swimmer and his organization, Mitey Riders, continue to provide free, certified equine-assisted therapy to young people with a range of disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, and autism. Since 1994, Swimmer's farmstead has hosted more than 700 children.