Empowerment in the Heartland

March 09, 2012

Bravo(Reprinted courtesy of 435 South magazine)

It began as a vision.

It transformed to reality.

Then, it grew to become a life-changing experience for hundreds.

It is Heartland Therapeutic Riding (HTR), a facility where people with disabilities and horses come together and healing, enjoyment and per- sonal growth happen.

In 1977, local lifelong horse lover, Jean Baum, brought equine therapy, a concept that was relatively new to the United States, to Johnson County in hopes of helping her disabled daughter. She eventually opened HTR’s first location at what is now 69 Hwy and College Blvd.

Now in its fourth location (the facility has kept moving further south in response to the city’s expansion) at 19655 Antioch, HTR offers people with special needs an experience to increase their potential, gain confidence and find fulfillment.

What HTR Does

Using retired riding, show and rodeo horses that can still serve an important purpose and are impeccably trained and cared for, HTR consis - tently serves 65-70 special needs clients every year. HTR offers two types of equine therapy classes for people with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism, Down syndrome, deafness, blind- ness, in addition to many emotional, neuromus- cular and orthopedic disorders.

Hippotherapy is a one-on-one experience where a child rides a horse and a physical, occupational or language therapist, a side-walker and a horse leader accompany the child. This class is a one-on-one experience for children and meets once a week for 30 minutes.

“This equine therapy is similar to what hos- pitals provide except the 3D movement a child experiences while riding the horse is an advantage because it’s identical to human walking,” says HTR’s executive director Vicki Brown. “For children with disabilities, this is paramount. For that limited time, they are no longer prohibited from seeing the world and moving like they otherwise are unable to.”

Therapeutic Riding is a group course offered at HTR. People of all ages and with various needs work with certified instructors to learn horse-riding skills.

“Some riders become quite advanced and can perform jumping and other skills,” Brown says. Heartland students also get to participate in a horse show each May.

“Everyone who rides gets a ribbon, and we award trophies to the top two finishers. We have a photographer, an announcer, a judge and a ringmaster, so it’s pretty authentic. This is a highlight for the riders and their parents,” Brown says.

Robert Holcomb, MD, a neonatologist with Sunflower Neonatology and medical director of the HCA Midwest Neonatal Transport Team headquartered at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, sits on the HTR board of directors. His wife, Kathleen, has also served on the board of directors and volunteers at HTR. The couple donated their Welsh pony, Bravo, to the organization three years ago. After a trial period, Bravo is now a working member of the HTR equine family.

“He has a wide, flat back and is perfect for the walk-trot classes at HTR,” says Holcomb.

How HTR Operates

From side-walkers and groomers to barn cleaners and its board of directors, HTR runs on the time of those willing to donate it.

“Our organization would not exist without volunteers,” Brown says. HTR’s board meets monthly and oversees the facility’s needs. Tracy Frank, HTR’s director of development, says her role as a board member is to ensure fiscal responsibility and to gain enthusiastic supporters.

“We assess Heartland’s needs and the reasons behind every purchase,” Frank says. “Our role as board members is also to raise awareness for what Heartland stands for. Donations are needed for more than just hay and grain. To keep helping these kids, we need funds for farm equipment and heaters to gravel, barns and arenas.”

HTR has always operated on a partial scholarship policy. Brown says up to 25 percent of all riders are on some form of scholarship, although there is no formal application process.

“We never refuse service to anyone due to financial constraints,” says Brown. “People pay what they can afford, however small. The operating cost per ride is higher than the fee, so even for those paying the full amount, we subsidize a large portion.”

Brown says HTR receives its funds from individual and corporate donations, The United Way, combined federal campaigns and grant writing. Its biggest source of income, though, comes from its annual fundraising event, Tux ‘n’ Boots. a Cha Rity that Makes D ReaMs CoMe tRue Celebrating 35 years in charitable business and recognized as the fifth therapy riding school in the nation, HTR offers a special and priceless gift—empowerment. What students experience at HTR is something they cannot do themselves. The volunteers at HTR and the horses help those with special needs find strength and fulfillment. What began as one woman’s dream to help her child, developed into a dream come true for hun- dreds of other children and hopeful riders. The power of equine therapy is purely visible on the faces of the riders. Smiles, all around.

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