Town & Country
Name: Theresa Thompson of Centerton, Ark.
In Town: Theresa is the volunteer and community outreach coordinator at Horses for Healing, a 75-acre equine-therapy farm founded in 1991 that is an accredited premier center with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, or NARHA.
In the Country: Theresa has been a professional horse trainer since about 1976. She uses her horse skills and contacts to help build donor awareness for her work at Horses for Healing.
"Debbie Studyvin, operations director, heard I was riding again and asked me to help as a staff member with therapeutic horseback riding programs. We have contracts with the Bentonville and Rogers school districts, which bus the children out to our barn. We serve 350 children, but there are 10,000 special-needs children in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties."
What have you learned at Horses for Healing?
"Learning about special-needs kids has just excited me so much. The cadence, or rhythm, of a horse is similar to that of a human's, so when we ride horses, the brain and body respond as if we are physically walking. The special-needs child who doesn't have good balance or can't walk or speak, is actually "walking" while on horseback, and it causes a neurological connection that leads to better memory, to forming words to speak and so on. And all the volunteers are just amazing."
What are the goals for improvement?
"We need 25,000 linear feet of fencing to make them more equine safe, plus a new manure spreader to replace ours, which breaks weekly. The cost of feeding (about 2,000 square bales of hay and 25 round bales per year) and caring for the animals — farrier and vet bills, are just tremendous. We could use another 30 or more volunteers per week who are 14 years old and older, to be horse leaders or side-walkers."
Theresa shared one story, "A child in a wheelchair initially seemed unresponsive, but as the horse, instructors and volunteers walked around the arena, he reached down to touch his horse on the mane – on purpose and with purpose. Three rounds later, he was smiling and laughing, connecting physically and emotionally. Every day, I'm amazed by these defining moments that make this so worthwhile."
By Jules Miller