Making a Difference: Hearts and Horses

Libby James
North Forty News

When Kathryn Yuma moved from Austin, Texas to Northern Colorado, she searched for a job that involved horses. She loved horses and had been riding since she was a child. She hoped for a job that would allow her to cater to her passion.

PHOTO COURTESY HEARTS AND HORSES; Kathryn Yuma, Development and Community Director, Hearts and Horses

At the non-profit Hearts and Horses, she found a perfect fit. The organization is dedicated to promoting physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being through interaction with horses. Yuma’s position at Hearts and Horses as Development and Community Director allows her to use her skills in marketing and non-profit fundraising for an organization that is close to her heart.

Established by a group of volunteers in 1997, Hearts and Horses maintains a herd of 30 four-legged therapists at 23-acre Ellis Ranch on Carter Lake Road west of Loveland. They serve a cross-section of the population with several different programs, focused on children with disabilities, veterans, and people with memory loss. People between the ages of two and 99 years have benefitted from the calming effects of riding and interacting with these animals. “Two feet move our body,” a well-known saying goes, “but four legs move our soul.”

A dedicated team headed up by Executive Director Jan Pollema, conducts the programs, and with help from volunteers, teaches, offers therapy sessions, and cares for the animals. All participants in the programs are dealing with one kind of vulnerability or another.

The Changing Leads program serves youth-at-risk, addressing behavior, ADHD, and anxiety issues to provide young people with a new set of tools to deal with their lives. In addition to riding, they are encouraged to help groom the horses and keep the tack in good order. Children from Poudre School District are bussed to the ranch weekly as part of their school curriculum. They learn techniques such as the sixty-second pause when confronting a difficult situation.

A Therapeutic Riding program accepts students as young as four and addresses strength, flexibility, coordination, coping and social skills, and self-confidence. An Interactive Vaulting program worked wonders with a ten-year-old boy who came to Hearts and Horses to work with an occupational therapist. A high-functioning person with autism, he participated in therapeutic riding and moved from there into the vaulting program where he excelled. He learned to do gymnastics and yoga on the back of a horse, increasing his confidence and core strength. “He could tell a story on the back of a horse,” Yuma said.

Hearts and Horses for Heroes addresses PTSD and other issues such as anxiety and depression confronting veterans. Riding in the Moment offers those dealing with dementia and memory loss a chance to experience the calming effects of riding and caring for horses. Other programs include the Blue Mountain Riding Academy which offers riding lessons for volunteers, and the Hearts for Horses community at a reasonable price, and three-day instructor workshops in specialized areas such as mental health. A summer fun week for kids with disabilities, internships, and outreach programs offering field trips to the ranch are also available. Hearts for Horses has a 20,000 square-foot indoor arena, making it possible to conduct programs year-round.

Volunteer and financial support are especially critical for Hearts and Horses as they prepare for a phased reopening scheduled to begin on July 2. At that time no visitors will be allowed and only independent riders will be able to participate while wearing masks and helmets.  Restrictions will decrease during phases two and three planned to be in effect through early December.

Meanwhile, many of the horses are being cared for by private parties. Hearts and Horses is surviving with help from an SBA loan. They plan either a smaller or virtual fundraising event later in the year in place of their annual gala, usually celebrated at Embassy Suites.

 

Hearts and Horses has an extensive and informative website (heartsandhorses.org) helpful for anyone interested in learning more about the organization, volunteering or donating.