Christine D. Lehman

— Enterprise file photo
Chris Lehman walks one of the horses she loved.

VOORHEESVILLE — Christine D. Lehman loved animals all her life and, through them, she served people.

For 35 years, Ms. Lehman helped kids and grown-ups with disabilities — some who couldn’t walk or couldn’t talk — ride horses. The experience could be transformative, both for the riders and the volunteers who helped them.

Ms. Lehman died on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, at Albany Medical Center after a long illness. She was 71.

“Her life was about service to others in the community,” said her dear friend Jennifer Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton answered an ad to be a volunteer at Ms. Lehman’s Albany Therapeutic Riding Center nearly three decades ago; the two women became fast friends.

Ms. Hamilton recalled one of the magic moments she shared in the riding ring. “We had one young man who was nonverbal,” she recalled. He had been coming to the center for quite a while and couldn’t communicate with hand signals either.

“Chris always told her students to tell their horses to walk.” When someone was silent, like this young man, after a wait, Ms. Hamilton recalled, “Chris would tell us to walk.” The volunteers, one on either side of the horse and another leading, would then proceed.

“One day, we were all standing there. Chris told him to tell the horse to walk. He said, ‘Walk.’ We were all so stunned, it took us a minute to start walking.”

Jo E. Prout, a former reporter and columnist for The Enterprise, volunteered at the center and wrote about it in a 2006 column. Ms. Prout had worked with other instructors that, like Lehman’s center, were accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

“Other instructors love horses, and share their love for horses with willing students,” Ms. Prout wrote. “Lehman loves horses, but the drive that has kept the riding center going for so long involves her long-term commitment to, and interest in, the individual riders and the benefits they derive from her lessons.”

A mother with a handicapped child told Ms. Prout that her daughter lived in a world where, because of her seizures, she was out of control. “When she’s riding that horse, she’s deciding whether to turn left. Chris builds a lot of choice into it,” she said.

The mother also said her daughter has “such a great feeling, a positive energy, after she leaves Chris that carries her through her week. It really helps with her emotional well being. I’ve seen such a difference since the riding lessons.”

“A lot of students came from group homes,” Ms. Hamilton said. “There were such diverse groups of people, it was really fun and rewarding to work with them,” she said. “You got a lot out of it.”

 


 

She also said, “Chris understood animal psychology, what really made them tick. It helped her in seeing how they interacted with the clients. It’s just one of those talents most of us don’t have.”

Ms. Lehman told The Enterprise in 1991, “A lot of time, progress is slow but students make quite a bit of progress. There are different goals for different students so there is not any ‘one over another’ attitude here. It’s more being able to do things they weren’t able to do before, being able to strive and work hard at accomplishing certain goals, picking up both the skills and the mental confidence. Sometimes just doing things on their own might be a great improvement for a student.”

More than two decades later, Ms. Lehman was still at it — giving confidence and teaching life lessons to those who most needed it. In 2013, when she won the Capital Region Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award, she told The Enterprise, “If they can get on a horse and ride a horse, if they can do that, then maybe life isn’t so scary. You transfer what you’re doing on the horse to general life goals.”

Ms. Hamilton concluded of her friend, “She knew what she wanted to do and worked to make it happen. She worked at it for 35 years without getting paid. She did it because she cared.”

Ms. Lehman was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1945 to the late Stuart and Thelma Lundberg Lehman. She is survived by one sibling, a brother, Stuart Lehman, who was born 12 years after her.

Mr. Lehman said their parents were in Oklahoma because their father had enlisted in the Navy during World War II and was being trained there. “My mother followed him there,” he said.  After the war, the young family returned to Stuart Lehman’s hometown, Albany, living on Melrose Avenue until 1964.

Their mother was a homemaker and their father worked for the phone company, first as a lineman and then in an office.

“She always liked animals,” said Mr. Lehman of his sister. “We had a collie named Candy and a cat.”

Ms. Lehman did well enough in school, he said, but was not bookish. She preferred being outdoors. “She liked sports,” he said. “She taught me how to play baseball.”

“Her parents got her a horse when she was 14; that started the whole thing,” said Ms. Hamilton.

Ms. Lehman would go trail riding with a group called Lucky 13, said her brother.

Just before she went to college at Delhi to become a veterinary technician, her father bought a farm in New Scotland. The 90-acre farm on Martin Road sits at the base of the Helderberg escarpment.

“We used to ride the trails around the Helderbergs a lot,” said Mr. Lehman. “And we’d go to the Painted Pony Rodeo in Lake Luzerne.

 


 

“Initially, many years ago, Chris showed quarter horses and taught regular riding,” her brother said. “She had a business called Sunrise Stables.”

In 1975, Ms. Lehman attended a seminar in Virginia on therapeutic riding, which piqued her interest, she told The Enterprise. “It took quite awhile to get everything organized and underway,” she said.

“She was one of the first people in the area to be certified,” said her brother.

Ms. Lehman helped sustain the center with her full-time job as a biology technician at Columbia-Greene Community College. Her mother had once worked as a lab technician, too, Mr. Lehman said.

Ms. Lehman also kept a petting zoo with many different kinds of animals that she would hire out to raise funds for her riding center. “She had llamas, an alpaca, rabbits, pygmy goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, doves, and fancy pigeons,” said her brother.

“Animals of many kinds found refuge at her farm,” Ms. Lehman’s family wrote in a tribute. Ms. Lehman would take her menagerie on the road, for instance visiting Parsons Child and Family Center in Albany.

Ms. Lehman would take what she called a “busman’s holiday” and, for fun, go to local country fairs. She showed her sheep at the Altamont Fair, where she mentored 4-H members. She also brought many of her chickens to the Altamont Fair, including her exotic Silkies and Sultans, said her brother.

“She would always come away with ribbons, and a few grand-prize ones as well,” he said.

Although Ms. Lehman enjoyed socializing with other breeders at the fair, and was close friends with riding-center volunteers, her brother described her as “very independent.”

He said, “She spent most of her time on the farm, taking care of the animals…she was content with that.”

The farm work took grit. Mr. Lehman described the cold winds that would funnel through the farm at the base of the escarpment. “The wind would sweep through in the winter and freeze the water in the buckets. She’d have to chop the ice so the horses could drink. If there’s a blizzard, you’ve still got to do it. There are no days off.”

In 2006, when Ms. Prout wrote her column about Ms. Lehman’s quarter-century of commitment to the riding center, she asked Ms. Lehman if she would offer therapeutic riding lessons for another 25 years. Lehman did not hesitate.

“Yeah. Of course, I am. I’ll be wheeling my wheelchair down,” Lehman said. The volunteers gathered around her laughed and said they would have the horses ready for her.

“You hear that, Teddy,” Lehman said to one of her old horses. “Another 25 years more of this.”

Mr. Lehman said this week that, even though his sister was “suffering with ill health and was on oxygen to breathe,” she kept her reservations to go to Springfield, Massachusetts next weekend to a poultry show there.

“We were hoping she’d get better,” he said. “She never gave up.”

****

Christine D. Lehman is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Stuart and Ruth Lehman of Albany; also by her close friends, Jennifer Hamilton and Dawn Haas.

Her parents, Stuart and Thelma Lehman, died before her.

Family and friends wish to say a very special thank-you to the wonderful staff at Albany Medical Center for all of their compassionate care during Christine’s stay.

Calling hours will be held on Sunday, Jan. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. followed by a funeral service at 4 p.m., all at Tebbutt & Frederick Memorial Home, 633 Central Ave., Albany. A brief graveside service will take place in Memory Gardens Cemetery on Monday at 10 a.m. with the funeral procession departing the funeral home at 9:30 a.m.

Mourners may leave condolences online at sbfuneralhome.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Albany Therapeutic Riding Center, 182 Martin Road Ext., Voorheesville, NY 12186.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

More Obituaries

  • WARNERVILLE — Joseph F. Parsons Jr. loved the outdoors and spending time with his family. He died on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, after battling cancer. He was 61.

  • GUILDERLAND — Susan Diane Stealey, who loved travel, the outdoors, animals, and family, died peacefully at her Guilderland home on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by her loving family and pets, her family wrote in a tribute. She was 51.

  • Beth D. (née Taber) Conway

    Beth D. Taber Conway of Valatie died on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, following a long and courageous battle with cancer.

    Born in Albany, she was the daughter of Neil and Dorothy Hines Taber. She was the wife of the late Brian J. Conway.