What started as a small center with a unique approach to therapy has blossomed into a gigantically popular way to help residents all over the state.
The success of equine activities for mental and physical therapy led Equest to consolidate its therapeutic horsemanship programs to Texas Horse Park in Dallas, a 304-acre site in the Great Trinity Forest.
At the new park, Equest has 38 stalls, a 6,000-square foot therapy area, and, of course, a bevy of horses making an impact on multiple patients.
The agency offers a program designed for veterans and military families transitioning to new roles within their communities and also works with special needs children and others needing physical and emotional therapy.
To highlight the growth of Equest, examine the center’s state more than 30 years ago: Located in Wylie, the center had only two horses, one instructor, and a handful of volunteers. By the time Equest joined Texas Horse Park in 2014, the center had grown to 36 horses, 10 instructors, and more than 400 volunteers.
“We’re now able to serve clients that couldn’t reach us in Wylie,” said Lili Kellogg, Equest chief executive officer. “The number of volunteer groups has increased exponentially as well, and Dallas community leaders are more familiar with us, too.”
The center isn’t done expanding, either — another riding arena is planned, thanks to a donation from the Al Hill Jr. Family Foundation.
It’s all a backdrop to the horses – the real stars of THP, Kellogg said. Per a survey the center sends out to current and former patients, 100 percent of those that responded reported some sort of improvement after spending time with the horses.
“Horses are miracle workers,” Kellogg said. “Interaction with horses strengthens the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional functioning of the individual. And sometimes it’s just the simple things – imagine being in a wheelchair all day and then being lifted onto the back of the horse. And we’ve noticed that the horse-human interaction increases concentration, enhances one’s ability to articulate emotions, and expands esteem and self-discipline.”
Kellogg and other THP volunteers recalled several examples of incredible improvement from patients that spent time with the horses, including an adopted girl that didn’t laugh or smile for seven years until riding a horse at the center at age 10. Or, an anxiety-riddled veteran who improved so dramatically from horseback riding that he became a spokesperson for the center. And, a patient who was bedridden after surgery on her skull but began walking again immediately following a few sessions with a horse.
“I could write a book about the wonderful things we’ve seen with our clients over the years,” Kellogg said. “The need [for horse therapy] is great. More than 800,000 people in the greater Dallas area have a disability. One in 20 veterans in this country take their own life every day, and one in 62 babies born ends up being diagnosed with an Autism-related disorder. These are all areas that our center helps address.”
• Riding improves posture, balance, and muscle control and offers cardiovascular benefits.
• Interacting with horses teaches empathy and responsibility, as well as increased concentration.
• Motor skills increase with extended riding time.