In the fall of 1998 a therapeutic riding class was taught to nineteen Texas Tech students who worked with four students with no permanent home for the class and no money. No one could have predicted the lives that one class would change.
Heidi Brady Ph.D. the program’s executive director and Tara Petty Ph.D., a recreational therapist, jointly taught that first class with horses paid for with $500 dollars borrowed from Kevin Pond Ph.D., Chair and Professor, Department of Animal and Food Sciences. The class was then called the Principles of Therapeutic Riding and lessons were taught at Texas Tech’s livestock arena.
“The program was started to both perform a service and to teach Texas Tech students,” Brady stated.
The next year, the first three horses were donated to the University Therapeutic Riding Center. Soon after Merrill Lynch stepped in and gave the program a huge leg-up by donating a truck, trailer and horse. Todd Thompson, who at the time was on the charitable committee for Merrill Lynch, orchestrated this donation.
“It was blind luck that I was reading the Texas Texan and the article was in there and it was pretty much in its infancy. They were trying to hold a class about once a week. At that time I happened to be sitting on the charitable committee for Merrill Lynch and brought it to the committee’s attention,” Thompson stated.
Thompson recalled one story about a client that was close to his heart a little girl that had Angelman’s syndrome. After riding in the program she had a 100% turn around. She was never supposed to walk and now she is walking. He said “there have been some huge victories and it is just really amazing as far as what the horses can do. They can not duplicate in a clinical setting what happens to the muscle stimulation that happens while the patients are on a horse.”
With more equipment and more horses, this fledgling program was slowly growing but still had no place to call home. They kept the horses at Texas Tech’s Research Farm in New Deal, Texas and would trailer them to the Livestock Arena or when the weather was nice to the Ranching Heritage Center on the Texas Tech Campus.
In 2003, San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo started funding the University Therapeutic Riding Center and has been a huge donor ever since. Finally, in 2004, Sue and Curtis Griffith gave the program a place to call home when they donated the Texas Tech Equestrian Center. These and further donations and grants also allowed the Center to hire Program Director Heather Hernandez, who Brady describes as “instrumental in the growth of our program.” The name also changed and officially became Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center.
These successes led to the Therapeutic Riding Center gaining Premiere Accredited Status from NARHA (the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association). This is a non-profit association helping member centers and instructors maintain a successful program for individuals with special needs. All of the Therapeutic Riding Centers instructors are certified, including Heather Hernandez who is an advanced instructor. Hernandez emphasized that “it’s a big deal, the program is going into our fifth year of accreditation.”
With all this new growth and development in classes the Therapeutic Riding Center was starting to out grow its shared facilities with all the other Texas Tech equestrian programs. Hernandez has watched the number of clients grow from eight clients a week to 60 clients.
This September the Therapeutic Riding Center was finally blessed with a new enclosed arena. The new building was built with the help of grants and donations. This phase one is called Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center, Teaching and Research Facility. Hernandez said with a smile, “There is a lot of stuff we are going to add in the future but this is the first step.”
The new arena alone will allow the Center to grow because it is large enough to have concurrent sessions going on. This facility will be really instrumental in taking us to the next level we are striving to lead the nation in the field of equine assisted therapy, Dr. Brady said, they also want to expand the number of clients they serve, which will also expand the number of students they can train.
Hernandez said “We have seen clients take their first steps who were not walking because of hippotherapy.”
“This program would not be soaring if it were not for the amazing staff, students and volunteers that help run it” Dr. Brady stated.
The program is run by; Heather Hernandez program director, Tangi Arant the equine manager/instructor and Jessica Jones serving as volunteer coordinator/instructor. Along with theses dedicated staff members there are the students from the classes that Texas Tech offers. The three classes that Tech offers are introduction to hippotherapy, advanced therapeutic riding and equine assisted mental health.
For Michelle Logan and her nine-year-old daughter the Therapeutic program has been an instrumental force in changing their lives, Logan’s daughter attends lessons for speech. “It is just hard to describe to people what exactly it does and how it really helps. I would have never thought it would have made this big of a difference, “Logan stated. It has helped my daughters’ language comprehension, conversation skill and her ability to be understood.