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A magical place where victories happen

Kids & Horses
Volunteers help a student ride a horse at Kids & Horses.
Courtesy Kids & Horses |

Welcome to Kids & Horses! We are a place where victories happen. At times, the victories come slowly and are small steps but they are victories all the same.

Each class is led by a PATH certified instructor. PATH is the international organization that sets standards and trains and certifies instructors. Kids & Horses is a Premier Accredited Center and the first and largest in northern Nevada.

Each student has a team. In addition to the instructor, volunteers help by acting as side walkers and horse handlers. Kids & Horses has a dedicated group of more than 60 volunteers who log over 10,000 hours a year — many of whom have worked with Kids & Horses for years.

Despite the organization’s name, special needs individuals of all ages are eligible for assistance. Participants do not “age” out if they can benefit from equine therapy. Currently, our older students include those challenged by stroke deficits, MS and dementia.

Why does this work? It’s the horse.

Physically, the rolling gait of a horse builds core strength and exercises those muscles used for walking in a human. Riding is a complex activity. Children learn to hold reins properly, sit tall in the saddle, keep their heels down, look where they want their horse to go, and on top of that, remember which is left and right and listen to the instructor’s directions. It teaches attention and focus. The students who can ride independently will practice multi-task instructions, i.e. moving their horse through a prescribed route around traffic cones in the arena. Before class, they learn to saddle and tack up their therapy horse while talking and petting the animal. After class, they reverse the steps and replace the tack in the designated area. The ability to learn and remember multi-step processes is, in fact, an important job skill. Many special needs children can be trained to become employable and/or independent adults. The earlier they can begin, the better the prognosis.

The horse is a friend. Often, the first words spoken by a nonverbal, autistic child are the name of the horse and the commands of “Walk on” and “Whoa” and, of course, “Thank you” to his horse at the end of class.

Many of our students come from struggling and dysfunctional family situations where there are no available funds to pay the Kids & Horses tuition. For these children, riding their therapy horse is an oasis in their life — one where they can build confidence, laugh, learn and, most of all, sit tall in the saddle on their big, fuzzy friend and giggle as they trot together.

Kids & Horses is growing! In 2013, Kids & Horses, Inc. purchased the ranch it has been using since the program was founded in 1999. Our goal in 2016 is to grow the program by 30 percent and service clients from northern Nevada, the Tahoe Basin and neighboring California. The need for additional scholarship funding is also growing. Our goal includes bringing the number of children funded by scholarships to 50 percent of the clients served.

This year, Kids & Horses is adding licensed professional therapists specializing in hippotherapy and occupational therapy to our staff. Our vision is to grow the therapy options in northern Nevada by continuing equine therapy and adding professional therapies.

Please meet some of our students

Robert has fetal alcohol syndrome. His late mother was a heroin addict while she was carrying Robert and he struggles with anger management issues and delayed learning disabilities. He loves his therapy horse and is learning to control his anger outbursts. Even if he arrives for his session in an agitated state, he can become calm once he is on the horse. He lives with his grandmother.

MJ is on the autism spectrum and has verbal difficulties and learning challenges. He has acquired some verbal skills and is interacting with his therapy team on most occasions.

Lillian has spina bifida and has had far too many operations for one so young. She has become a very good rider over the years. The movement of the horse has continued to strengthen her core muscles. Her mother coined the phrase, “At Kids & Horses, our children can feel normal in a world where they are not.” Perhaps her dream of becoming the Rodeo Queen will come true.

Dani was an outstanding high school athlete. After college at San Diego State University, she became a ski instructor at Diamond Peak and member of the golf course staff. In 1995, Dani was in a tragic boating accident on Lake Tahoe that left her in a coma and hospitalized for five months. Her prognosis was dire. Her parents brought her home and, thanks to Dani’s strong will, she is walking independently and riding at Kids & Horses on Pepper, a large therapy horse. Her determination to improve and participate in life is inspiring to other Kids & Horses riders and staff … and to all who know her.

Ariel has X-linked hypophosphatemic rickets, which is a rare genetic disorder that compromises the body’s ability to metabolize Vitamin D. Bone growth is affected. When Ariel began equine therapy, she wore braces on both legs to give her the support she needed to walk. Now, she is out of braces and a veteran rider. Even though rickets causes chronic deep bone pain, Ariel is determined to ride. For her, it is a calling.

Ryan suffered multiple seizures and strokes when he was an infant. He has cerebral palsy and Asperger’s Syndrome. He is also Gifted and Talented. He joined Kids & Horses when he was four-years old and, 12-years later, he is a tall, lanky teenager who is a skilled rider. Tami, his mom, says, “We tried swim, Chinese dance, gymnastics and martial arts. Even with private lessons, Ryan was never able to fully participate and felt different from other kids.” When on a horse, Ryan feels “free” and “normal.” This is one of the few times his disabilities are not an issue. Horses don’t judge and they treat him just like everyone else.