With gentle hands they touch you with love
Something you’re not sure you know much of
They walk you around, work off some of the fear
You walk shoulder to shoulder, it is their heart you now hear
—From Horse Rescue Poem by Cindy Jenkins
by Elizabeth Gibbs
Cindy Jenkins’ poem represents the essence of Hearts Therapeutic Riding in Central Texas and embodies who the group actually is: a champion of shelter from the storm of life, an army of softened hearts, and a team of compassionate eyes. They have taken the broken and weary and offered renewal and healing. This poem is posted like a badge on their website, and rightly so.
In 2018, with the help of a grant from the Parelli Foundation—as well as with the wisdom and instruction of licensed Parelli Professionals—Hearts Therapeutic Riding has offered healing to horses and humans in great strides.
It all began in the early 2000s, when founder Lisa Rivers opened her doors to foster horses rescued by Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Lisa said: “I loved knowing that caring for a horse that has been so severely neglected was helping it. I cared for several horses from Bluebonnet and watched as they developed into beautiful animals with good hearts. I knew that the horses gave me peace but did not really understand why.” Lisa had a heart for not only horses but also people. She began as a special education teacher but eventually she grew to manage entire disability organizations.
In 2012, Lisa’s combined skill sets gave life to two Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship−based organizations: Equine Rehabilitation Central Texas and Hearts Therapeutic Riding. “I used my knowledge of disabilities to connect with my passion for horses. It took a leap of faith to quit my job and develop this more than full-time job. We now provide 75 therapeutic riding lessons every week and serve all disabilities with a growing number of lessons for traumatized teens with great success.”
At both Equine Rehabilitation Central Texas and Hearts Therapeutic Riding, Lisa and her team prefer to keep their horsemanship natural. They have utilized funding from a Parelli Foundation grant to continue education in Parelli Natural Horsemanship through clinics and lessons with 3* licensed Parelli Professional Keri April.
It became evident to Lisa through Jake (her personal horse) that the life of a lesson/therapy horse can be stressful. Inexperienced hands and riders can be very taxing on a horse’s body and mind. The degradation began to manifest inside of Jake. He began to nip the person leading him and refused to move when asked. Now, when Jake sees Lisa, he prances along the fence lines begging for her to come and play, all because he and his human friends have learned the concepts of natural horsemanship. “I wish that all therapeutic riding programs could be taught Parelli Natural Horsemanship,” said Lisa. “I feel so much gratitude to the Parelli Foundation for providing the training grant. It has helped all of us and all of our horses.”
Today, Equine Rehabilitation Central Texas and Hearts Therapeutic Riding continue to make a difference. They have been able to save horses bound for Mexico within hours of shipment to slaughter, and because of their accreditation, they can now accept scholarships from the Wounded Warrior Project and Autism Speaks. Lisa now knows why helping horses gives her great peace, as she explained: “Parelli Natural Horsemanship has shown me more clearly why horses do this for us. We learn to pay attention to any little communication the horse is giving us, and we also learn that any little facial expression or movement is communicating something to the horse. This process helps us feel grounded and present in the moment, forgetting all our troubles for the day.”
The Parelli Foundation is proud of its support of Lisa and Hearts Therapeutic Riding. They are definitely pushing the message forward—making the world a happier place for horses and the people who love them.