Therapeutic Horsemanship of El Paso (THEP) is changing lives one rider at a time.
It has been providing therapy in the Borderland for 28 years, but is now struggling to keep its doors open after losing its largest sponsor.
Certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), THEP offers aid to people with all types of disabilities, including ADD, autism, amputees, cerebral palsy, PTSD, and even substance abuse.
“What horses help them (clients) understand is their body language and how the energy that they’re projecting is seen by their community, maybe their spouse, their children,” said Tami Lind, the executive director of THEP. “Horses really help to regulate your emotions, identify what’s happening, and help you to present the image that you would want to show them.”
Lind added “the bond between a horse and rider is beautiful to see. They form this non-verbal connection and communication.”
One mother who has seen a difference in her son is Lisa Mitchell. Her son T.J. was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. The now 21-year-old has been attending lessons once a week for the past nine years.
“Communicating is really the hardest part. He understands so much, but he just can’t verbally express it. I know he gets frustrated, I get frustrated, other people get frustrated,” says Mitchell. “Now, he’s calmer, he’s a lot more focused out here, a lot more body strength, more patience, he does communicate better….He’s a lot more helpful at home because he has better balance, coordination….”
Another mother seeing the benefits of therapeutic horsemanship is Kim Beliveau. Her 5-year-old son, Shawn, has cerebellar hypoplasia. It is an embryonic developmental disorder in which the cerebellum doesn’t develop fully.
“Walking is his biggest challenge. He’s very clumsy, he falls a lot,” said Beliveau. “He can’t even dress himself, he can’t do a lot of things that most people take for granted.”
After six months of weekly lessons, Beliveau noticed that Shawn has better upper body strength. “He can stand up longer than he was before. He’s a lot more stable. He can walk straighter. It’s a big difference.”
Lind said it takes $15,000 a month to keep the 5-acre ranch located in the Upper Valley operational. “It’s difficult to keep programs like this going. There’s programs like this closing down all over the country because it’s more expensive to feed horses now more than ever, land is more expensive than ever, insurance rates have gone up.”
Out of the 90 riders who take lessons at THEP, Lind said 70 percent don’t pay because they are on some sort of subsidy. All scholarships provided are from in-house.
Lind said her biggest expense is feeding all 16 horses. Each horse eats about eight to nine bales of hay a day. “If I had 200 people donate one bale of hay, I could feed my horses for an entire year,” added Lind.
One way Lind keeps costs down is by taking on volunteers. Currently she has about 100 people volunteering. There are only two full-time staff members.
THEP does receive funds from local organizations, including the HUNT Foundation and Western Refinery, but Lind is still asking the community for more support.
To donate or to volunteer, you can visit www.TH-EP.org for more information.