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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Some college students use their spring break to soak up the sun on a beach somewhere. But some University of Missouri students are using their time off to serve others. That’s what brought them to Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center which is the heartbeat of Director Kathi Paul.

“Help improve the lives of people with disabilities,” Paul said. Happy Trails is for anyone that has a disability, age doesn’t matter. “We use activities with our gentle horses to help them sometimes to speak, to follow directions better, sometimes to get over fear,” Paul explained.

Paul has watched first-hand how students’ spirits come alive at Happy Trails.

“We’ve had three little girls, three little autistic girls, say their first words on ponies,” Paul said.

Now, Paul’s hoping to show a group of University of Missouri students her way of life. “They raked our entire front pasture, got all the dead leaves out of there, and we’re composting them now,” Paul said naming just a few of the tasks the students will complete this week.

Mizzou students like Andrew Cannon chose to spend their spring break serving others. “I hope to make friends, which I already have,” Cannon said. “These people were strangers to me before we came.”

Cannon is not a stranger to the South. “I love Alabama as well cause I’ve been to Alabama the past four spring breaks,” Cannon said. But, Cannon’s never spent time in Alabama like he is this week. “It allows me to just give back to the community that I’ve never been a part of.”

These several days on the farm gives Paul the help she needs to preserve the future of Happy Trails.

“It’s such a relief for me,” Paul said. “I lost my husband two years ago and so last year when they came, it was fabulous. They were able to help me do all the heavy work that I wasn’t able to do for myself.”

Happy Trails is known for offering “equine-assisted health care.” That means the horses have help students with autism, cerebral palsy and those with un-diagnosed challenges. For more information, please visit