Therapeutic riding program depending on scholarships volunteers this holiday season

Drew Bagley (4) rides a horse donning a Batman cape during a therapy session at the Loveland based Hearts and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center.

By Katie Harris

The Surveyor

Berthoud mom Joyce Bagley’s interest in Hearts and Horses Therapeutic Riding Center was piqued when her youngest son Drew was just an infant.

“He’s worked with therapists since he was just a few weeks old, and one of them had mentioned the program,” she said. “He wasn’t old enough yet, but I tucked the idea into the back of my mind and waited.”

It wasn’t until just a few months ago, when at the age of four Drew was able to begin a therapy session at the Loveland-based facility, that Bagley realized just how important the program was.

“Our little guy has a condition where he’s missing what allows the two sides of his brain to communicate,” said Bagley. “After just one six-week session his comfort level went from not even wanting to be on a horse to trying to get the horse to trot as much as possible and telling everyone about his horse. I think that’s very telling of some of the benefits.”

Drew’s sessions at Hearts and Horses involve physical exercises such as crossing the midline to build pathways in the brain and core work to help keep his head steady and upright during everyday activities.

In addition, Drew’s instructor works with him on focusing, following directions, and building relationships, not just with staff and fellow students, but with the horses as well.

“The thing that emanates throughout this entire program is the love that they have for these animals,” said Bagley. “The staff, the volunteers, the caregivers and parents, there is definitely love and compassion for all involved, and it seems to start with the horse.”

Tamara Merritt, associate executive director at Hearts and Horses, said the therapy program hosts up to 190 riders per week, thanks to partnerships with both the Poudre and Thompson School Districts, long term care facilities, and private clients.

“We serve a huge cross-section of the population in Larimer County, ages 2 to 98,” she said. The facility currently houses 29 horses, making volunteers a necessity.

“We have one of the biggest volunteer programs in Larimer County, and can always use more for jobs like cleaning stalls, working with the horses, working with the kids and adults, and sitting on committees,” Merritt said. Up to 50 volunteers can be found pitching in at the facility each day.

“We definitely have a core group of volunteers who find this such an amazing place to give back to,” she said. “People just love the program and often say they get just as much as they give.”

In addition to the need for volunteers, Hearts and Horses is seeking donations year round for its scholarship program, which nearly half its clients depend on to fund their therapy.

“We never want to turn anyone away based on their inability to pay for this service, so scholarship donations are always a really important need,” said Merritt. “There are often times when people will donate tack and office supplies, but typically the funding is the biggest need.”

The program offers free sessions to veterans and also offers a youth-at-risk program, which can be donated to directly depending on donors’ interests.

A third ongoing need for the program is sponsors for its “Pony Up” scholarship, a monthly giving system which provides for the needs of the horses at the facility.

Anyone interested in contributing to Hearts and Horses this holiday season, or any time of year, can visit www.heartsandhorses.org for more information, to donate, or to sign up for a volunteer orientation. To request a tour of the facility, located at 163 N. County Road 29 in Loveland, call 970-663-4200.

“Everyone [at Hearts and Horses] is so good at what they do,” said Bagley. “They’re great at pairing the participant with the horse and with a good group. They put a lot of work into making it work, and if it doesn’t work they try something new. It’s quite amazing.

“Sometimes you go to a place and know it’s special just by being there,” she said. “What they do, it’s just special work for special people.”

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