A co-op member serving their community - promoting the physical, cognitive, emotional and social well-being of people with special needs through equine-assisted therapy.
“Today is Hadley’s seventh birthday,” Tonya Kaser said with a smile on her face as she watched her daughter ride her horse around the arena.
Hadley has struggled physically with core issues since she was two years old and activities like gymnastics and dance weren’t helping her improve. She has been riding at Hearts & Horses, a therapeutic riding center in Loveland and member of PVREA, since January.
“Things were going slow for a while but all of the sudden in the last two months, she’s been able to accomplish so many things that a girl who just turned seven should be able to do. She can now ride a bike without training wheels and get a cartwheel over her head,” Tonya explained.
Twenty-one years ago, Hearts & Horses began as a small therapeutic riding program led by volunteers to help children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities grow both mentally and physically. Since then, the nonprofit organization has grown tremendously. With nine full-time staff members and support from part-time staff and volunteers, about 180 different riders participate each week.
Executive Director of Hearts & Horses, Jan Pollema, explained 40-50 volunteers help every single day and more than 1,600 people volunteered last year.
“It takes a village to make an organization like this run smoothly. Our volunteers are the heartbeat of this place,” she said.
Specific programs were created for riders with particular needs. The therapeutic riding program is designed to positively contribute to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with disabilities. The Changing Leads Program is designed to help youth-at-risk find friendship, develop trust and form a deep connection through partnering with a horse. Hearts & Horses for Heroes, a program for Veterans of all eras, helps riders heal and grow by restoring the wisdom of their mind, body, and spirit through their interactions with horses and each other. There is an Alzheimer’s Program and therapy services provided by licensed physical therapists or occupational therapists onsite.
Currently, 27 equines are on the property. The horses are acquired through leasing, some are purchased, and some are even donated. To determine if the horses are a good fit, they go through a 90-day training and trial process which allows the equine team to read over the horse profile, have a face-to-face visit and then if it seems like a good fit, the horse can come to the facility for a trial stay.
A project currently in the works is building a new arena for the horses and riders. It was a strategic goal to fix up the old arena last year, but it sustained damage from the weather in December and the need for a new one escalated. Hearts & Horses has been doing quiet fundraising since December. They made the campaign public in June 2018. They have raised money so far through pledges, cash donations and in-kind donations from contractors in the community. They still have $400k to raise and hope to have that by the end of the year.
To help spread awareness, an Ambassador Program was developed. Both children and adults can serve as ambassadors. Their job is to go into their communities and spread the word about the good work done at Hearts & Horses, talk with groups that visit, help lead tours of the facility, answer questions and share their own stories.
Rider Terry (TJ) Anderson is a participant in the Veterans Program and an ambassador. He explained how important this organization is to him because it gives him something outside of himself to do. He is grateful for the comradery and that everyone is friendly and always willing to help.
“When I first came here, I was in a bad place in my life. I didn’t have any self-confidence and was pretty negative. Because I stayed with Hearts & Horses, my self-esteem enhanced. I interact with others. When I first started here, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. The more times I did something, the more confident I felt being with the horses and now I feel very confident socially. When you’re out here and not having a very good day, not only will the horses pick you up, the people around you will encourage you and help take away your anxiety and apprehension,” he said.
Many of the riders set personal goals for themselves and goals specific to working with the horses. Some of these include building core strength, improving focus, and learning to listen and communicate. Learning to tack horses and saddle them, trotting and cantering with the horses are also goals that the riders strive for.
“I just love the joy that I see come from our riders and our staff and volunteers being able to give back and make a difference, a real impactful difference in somebody’s life. That is wonderful to be a part of,” Jan said.
To volunteer or donate, check out their website at www.heartsandhorses.org.
Going Energy Efficient
Hearts & Horses is working with the Co-op to upgrade lighting in their facilities to LED lighting through the Commercial Lighting Rebate program. They will reap energy savings in the future. Learn more about the rebate program here.