Stories From The Barn - February 1, 2018

By DeeDee Conrad on Feb 09, 2018 at 08:33 PM in Stories From the Barn

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL)

By Shallon Dusebout, Program Manager

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EFL participants practice telling Chief about themselves. Chief is happy to listen!

The past couple months have no doubt been devastating and traumatic for so many in our community. Yet, even while we experienced the tragedy of fire and flood, the horses of Hearts remained steady: steady under a rider with disabilities, steady in the hands of a dedicated volunteer, steady as a role model for a child suffering from emotional trauma.

The Hearts horses provide a place of solace for all who are willing to come near. This is true for 18 youth who have just started their two-month session of Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL). EFL is an exercise that promotes experiential learning with the help of one or more equines. Activities are educational in nature to focus on addressing students’ learning goals and promoting the development of life skills for educational, professional, and personal goals. These sessions are taught by a PATH Intl. Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL), and either a licensed mental health professional or a credentialed educator.

These groups are made up of boys and girls from all backgrounds, and they come to experience a relationship with a horse. Those who struggle with anxiety are calmed by the slow breathing and warm fur on the equine’s body; those who face depression are filled with joy as the horses prance and play, asking them to join in the herd; those who lack confidence are surprised by strength as they look over their shoulder and find their 1,000 pound friend following them by their own free will. Through EFL, a change takes place in the soul of each child. They experience an awakening and an appreciation for themselves and others like they did not know before. This is why we pursue equine facilitated learning. This is why the Hearts horses are all heroes in our community.

Next time you are at Hearts, stand next to a horse and let them show you a new way to participate in the relationship. Let them share in your sorrows, in your joys, and in your life.

Our New Addition – January 1, 2018

By Susan Weber, Lead Instructor

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Volunteer Kristen tests the new lift system with help from lead instructor Susan and Board Chairman Gritts.
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Welcome back, everyone! We’ve been off for quite some time because of the Thomas Fire and the holiday break. During that break, we welcomed our newest addition to the program, a motorized lift at the mounting ramp. First, Bailey Construction had to erect the structure into which the lift will be installed, which was generously donated by Los Rancheros Pobres. Then, Clive from Lift and Transfer Specialists did the actual installation. What does this mean for the program? It means that our riders, our instructors, and, most importantly, our horses will have a much less stressful experience at the mounting ramp.

Our instructors will no longer have to physically lift and place our riders into their saddles. Our riders will feel much less vulnerable getting to their equine partner. And our horses will no longer have to tolerate the “thump” moment- that moment when the rider is heaved on to their horse’s back.

The lift arms and straps are placed behind and under the rider for support. Then, by remote control, the rider is lifted up and out of their chair. The lift arms then swivel to put the rider in the proper position for the mount. Then, finally, they are softly and slowly placed on their horse’s back, averting the dreaded “thump”. It will take some time to desensitize the horses to both the structure as well as the lift itself, but we are hoping that, within the next month or so, our herd will be completely adapted to the process, and come to appreciate how much more pleasant an experience the mounting area can be.

Fill Our Hearts – January 1, 2018

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Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center touches the lives of adults and children with varying physical and cognitive abilities. Just over a year ago, a young boy named Benjamin came to Hearts to begin riding lessons. Before starting lessons, Benjamin was only able to walk with the aid of a walker, and often got around his own home by walking on his knees. After just 4 months of riding lessons, a true miracle occurred. Benjamin was able to run around and play with his brother for the first time in his life. Using the muscle and coordination he had developed through riding at Hearts, Benjamin was finally able to be a playful little boy.

Benjamin has been coming to Hearts for one year now and still receives full physical benefits from riding. Beyond the physical benefits of riding, Benjamin also gains confidence, builds self-esteem, and enjoys the company of other riders and volunteers around him. Benjamin represents just one of many inspiring transformations that Hearts is lucky to participate in every day!

While there are many supporters in stories like Benjamin’s, the hero in each story is YOU. You have helped build a facility that is used by almost one hundred riders each week. You have helped attract over one hundred volunteers who donate their time to such a worthy cause. Despite our physical and cognitive abilities, aren’t we all looking for a community to be a part of? Aren’t we all looking for somewhere to belong, feel inspired, and to feel motivated? Hearts offers such a community, and it is because of the support from you. Thank you!

We want to ensure that we are able to continue providing this positive community in the future, but to do that we need your help. Tuition fees cover less than half of our costs – we rely on grants, special event income, and donations from individuals and organizations for the rest. To continue and hopefully grow our services, your support is critical.

By donating to Hearts, you too, can change lives like Benjamin. Your gift will empower individuals, teach core values, and help heal mind, body, and heart. Please consider investing in the positive life changes happening at Hearts through a gift this season.

Click here to donate now. Thank you in advance for your support!

Program Highlight – November 1, 2017

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Hearts veteran riders at the Veterans Day Parade, 2016

By Devon Sachey, Program Director

Hearts veteran riders at the Veterans Day Parade, 2016

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to extend my sentiments of gratitude to our instructors, horses and participants. Together, we served a total of 92 individuals last month- 70 therapeutic riding students and 22 unmounted EFL students. These numbers have become the new benchmark at Hearts as our Equine Facilitated Learning program evolves and the therapeutic riding program remains full. Collectively, Hearts has served over 300 individuals from year to date, already exceeding this year’s goal. The list of gratitude goes on and on thanks to the help of our amazing instructors, horses, and participants.

So, to our horses, thank you for being our partners and teachers. You teach us to strive towards excellence every day while gracefully carrying our riders to success. To our instructors, thank you for investing your time into our horses, participants, and each other. Together, you embody the essence of Hearts. To our participants, thank you for illuminating the possibility of strength, hope, and joy that we all too often overlook. You’ve taught us the power of perseverance and unconditional love.

Finally, I would like to give a special thanks to the U.S. Veterans and participants of Operation Unbridled Freedom. Thank you for your sacrifices and for preserving our freedoms. We are honored to serve you after all you’ve given to our country.

Semper Fidelis,

Devon Sachey, Program Director

The Straight Scoop – November 1, 2017

By Duane Harsh, Barn Manager

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Howdy, all!

I was honored when asked to contribute to the Hoofbeat, and I look forward to sharing my side of the story here at Hearts where things get a little dirty. Hence the name Straight Scoop.

Hearts is operated following the rules set forth by PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). One of the rule states that we must have a rodent eradication plan in place, and one approved method is having cats.

I’d like to introduce you all to our new barn cats, who are yet to be named. We have two brothers, four months old that came to us through Nancy O., a woman who rescues feral and stray cats and then re-homes them. They are American short hair and have identical grey tiger patterns. The larger one is friendlier and is slightly darker with a larger black tip on his tail and he comes right up to us at feeding time, while his brother hangs back until the feeder is out of the doorway. I’ve been able to pet the calmer guy once.

Currently, they live under the administrative office with the door closed so they can acclimate to the sights and sounds of their new home. In about a week, I will leave the cat door open full time so they can roam the property at will and hunt rodents, and have a safe haven in case predators come knocking.

Volunteers are welcome to help feed and care for our new friends, but please respect their space and trust by not chasing after them. We need good cats here on the ranch! Contact me if you would like a cat care shift, as Maxine, one of our Team Captains has done.

Thank you all for your time at Hearts. I hope it is as fruitful for you as it has been for me!

– Duane

Program Highlight – October 12, 2017

A Look into the Science of Caring for Therapeutic Horses

By Devon Sachey, Program Director & PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor

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As you may imagine, it takes a horse with special qualities to be awarded the title of “Therapy Horse”. Pleasant, easy-going and quiet temperaments are some of the most important attributes of a therapy horse. Because we use the horse’s movement as a therapeutic tool, it is also imperative therapy horses are sound to provide an even gate for our unique riders. But how do we strive to maintain our horse’s health and happiness?

There are many differences between operating a therapeutic riding program, specifically when it comes to the care of therapeutic horse, and running a regular riding program. Some are unique to our industry; others are a slight variation of general horse care practices. Some differences include:

  • Purposefully designed horsemanship procedures for the continuity of horse care and handling
  • Overseeing thorough and ongoing training of 180+ volunteers annually to care for and handle the Hearts herd
  • Putting the “working horse policy” into practice – similar to service animals, when therapy horses are in work, we aim to not distract them. When they are in their stalls or off “the clock”, however, our staff and volunteers must generously provide them with love, affection and appreciation
  • Diligent tracking and balancing of horse working hours – adhering to strict workload policies
  • Desensitization to riders with disabilities
  • Planned vacation time – 7 full days of turnout without work, 6 weeks per year
  • As in every horse focused organization, there is a science to overseeing the well being of horses, unique to each operation.

Now we will take a deeper look at….


PATH International, our governing body for safety and ethical practices, sets forth a series of standards governing administrative practices, facility management, lesson activities, and most importantly, equine welfare and management. Specifically, PATH provides therapeutic riding centers with mandatory standards such as providing fresh water to horses daily, providing shelter for each horse, having a consistent exercise schedule, and most importantly, strict workload limitations must be in place. As a Premier Accredited Therapeutic Riding Center, Hearts must adhere to all PATH standards. Failing to do so could result in the loss of our accreditation. More importantly, it would be a disservice to our horses and community.


PATH standards mandate therapy horses may not work more than 3 consecutive hours without a break, and may not to exceed 6 hours in a day. However, a therapy horse at Hearts will only work a maximum of ten hours per week performing at the walk, some trot, and on occasion, canter. As you will note below, we scrupulously track every working horse hour to ensure we meet these PATH standards. We also aim to evenly distribute working hours as best possible. In addition, many of these hours are unmounted lessons.

Date Field: 10/1/2017 to 10/8/2017
Horse Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Grand Total
Ariel 0 1 1 0 0 2 hours
Buddy 2 0 0 1 2 5 hours
Cassie 1 0 1 1 0 3 hours
Chief 2 0 1 2 2 7 hours
Hero 1 1 2 0 0 4 hours
Honey 1 0 2 2 1 6 hours
Indiana 1 0 1 1 0 3 hours
Joker 2 0 1 1 1 5 hours
Kodi 0 1 2 0 2 5 hours
Luke 2 0 3 2 1 8 hours
Rocco 1 1 2 2 1 7 hours
Shiloh 2 0 2 1 3 8 hours
Snickers 0 1 1 1 1 4 hours
Solo 1 2 1 1 0 5 hours
Toby 1 0 0 1 0 2 hours
Vinnie 1 1 1 0 0 3 hours
Grand Total 17 8 21 15 14 75 hours


Therapeutic riding is more mentally taxing than physically taxing. Allowing our horses to be turned out as a herd is crucial to their role as a therapy horse in that it offers them an opportunity to relax from the stressors of work and interact socially with their barn-mates. Hearts horses are turned out 5 days a week as a herd; two full days of turnout (no work), and three days of half turnout (working only half a day of lessons). Giving our horses the opportunity to be a horse is essential to their mental health, so we make this a priority.

Veterinary and Hoof Care

Overall health of a therapeutic herd is essential to keeping them happy, healthy, and under saddle. One way we ensure our horses overall health is putting our horses on a monthly chiropractic rotation of 5 horses at a time, so that horses get adjusted every quarter. Additionally, properly fitting saddles and supportive saddle pads are very important. Saddle fittings are done every 6 months and new saddle pads are purchased every year. Back health is essential for a healthy therapeutic horse, considering their riders are often unbalanced or ride unevenly to one side or the other. As with standard equine care practices, we worm and vaccinate on a 4 month schedule and shoe/trim every 7 weeks, ensuring our horses receive regular maintenance and upkeep.

Their Next Career

Many of our horses are brought to us on the tail end of their working careers. For some, being a therapy horse is their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th career. Often we will see horses who can no longer jump, compete, etc. but aren’t ready to retire just yet. These are the horses that love to work but physically can no longer withstand the rigors of their prior career(s). Therapeutic riding offers a great transition to retirement with a low impact work environment.

The Older Horse

The average age of a horse joining therapeutic riding programs is 16. Due to the general wear and tear that comes with age, many of our horses are prescribed Equiox for a safe, daily anti-inflammatory care in addition to MSM and Cosequin for joint health. Some horses receive Osphos as needed to keep them as comfortable as possible during their time at Hearts.


Hearts has the privilege of being sponsored by Platinum Performance, so all of our horses receive the highest quality supplements. Hearts horses are also given senior feed, rice bran, and hay pellets (as needed) in their daily buckets to supplement their orchard and alfalfa hay. We primarily feed twice daily, but have a select group of therapy horses which require noon feedings as well. Lastly, our horses are administered 1 week of Sand Purge each month as preventative measures for sand colic.

Vacation Time

As with any working horse, it is essential that they get regular time off, especially for therapy horses. At Hearts, our horses are given six weeks off out of the year, breaking up their sessions into an average of 11 working weeks. We use these program breaks to turn our horses out all day for seven days, ensuring they aren’t scheduled for lessons or exercise rides during that time.

Exercise & Supplemental Care

Through the use of our Pony Pals program, select volunteers tend to their assigned horse’s unique needs such as chiropractor prescribed stretching exercises, lunging with a Chambon, bathing, clipping, tending to cuts and the occasional trail ride for a mental vacation from the arena. Each horse has a specific exercise routine ranging from trail rides– for a change of pace from the arena- lunging, hand walks, or desensitization training in our mounting ramp. Every horse’s care routine varies, based on their specific needs.

Volunteer Training – The Hearts Way

Imagine 10 different people leading the same horse in their own style; some would be authoritative, some would let the horse do the leading, some may push, some may pull. These inconsistencies could ultimately lead to confusion, frustration, and discontent in a horse. Through volunteer trainings, we teach volunteers to handle our horses “The Hearts Way”. This is a strategically designed method to provide consistent, systematic handling of our horses. This way, the Hearts horses know what to expect when they come out of their stall, when they enter the mounting ramp, and while they diligently stand still for a dismount. But like every good natured horse, they like to tattle on their volunteers when they are operating out of the norm!

What’s in the Works to Make Our Herd Happier & Healthier?

One of the benefits of being in Grad school and working full time is the opportunity to use one’s own organization as a pipeline for case studies and project inspiration. Our staff continually seeks opportunities for the betterment of our equine care practices, striving for the happier, healthier therapy horse. As such, one of the things I envision for our herd is a frequent vacation rotation. For my final quantitative analysis graduate project this semester, I endeavor to use my new decision science tools to calculate a model for frequent horse vacation times without disrupting program services.

Additionally, one of the challenges therapeutic riding centers face is maintaining a therapeutic horse’s topline. Because they aren’t engaging their topline regularly through true collection, this is one of the first muscle groups to go on a therapy horse. While a majority of our horses get lunged in a Chambon 1-2x per week, to stretch and strengthen their toplines, they require more to stay fit and strong enough to support our unbalanced rider. Therefore, another initiative for the Hearts herd is to develop a more thorough training program for our horses.

Lastly, we have a few horses that are preparing to retire from the program, so I am on the search for their “understudies” and wonderful, final homes for these amazing steeds. Stay tuned for more new and exciting stuff at Hearts!

Sheep Highlight – October 12, 2017

Bob Ramsey

Written by Carol Lawrence

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Bob with Carol, a volunteer at Hearts

They’ve named me Bob, Bob Ramsey. I like having a name it makes me feel special an d not just a number.

Before I came to Hearts I was lost, alone and really scared. I was running around near a big road, the cars were going very fast and sometimes the humans stopped (maybe to help me) but I was wary of them and kept running away. I was eventually brought to Hearts and since then my life has dramatically changed.

I just LOVE it here! There is so much going on and at last, I have a family! It’s a big mix of souls so I’m not yet sure how I fit in. Sometimes I think I’m a horse, sometimes I think I’m a dog and sometimes I think I’m a human. (No one ever mentioned anything about my being a sheep. And anyway how is a sheep supposed to behave?) Sometimes when I see a group of humans talking together I wander over to join in and I know they must be talking about me because I usually get a welcome scratch on the head.

I love all the horses but especially love Kodi and Hero. I hope they will become my best friends, though I’m not too sure they feel the same way about me. When I see them in their corrals I park myself outside. All I want to do is butt heads with them but for some reason, which is beyond me, they don’t seem to enjoy it.

I keep going back to be with them and know one day soon they will love me too. How could they not? I’m adorable! (At least that’s what the humans keep telling me!) At night I enjoy curling up and sleeping with the minis. They’re small like me and really, really cozy to snuggle with.

And now I know what bliss feels like because the humans groom me!. When they brush me my eyes roll back into my head and I go into a trance. Don’t stop I think. But wait; another human is passing by with all the yummy food. See ya, kind human grooming me, I’m off to follow the food!

The ‘special’ food goes into the buckets and the horses seem to feel it’s for them. What on earth are they thinking? They’re eating my food! Don’t they know it’s all for me? And why am I being shooed away? I’m just doing what comes naturally…The food is here, I’m here and I like to eat. It’s very simple! (Sometimes humans don’t seem too bright!) I know the humans really love me and I am so grateful I was brought to Hearts.

Horse Highlight – September 11, 2017

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Written by Carol Lawrence

I am a horse. I live at Hearts, and what a SWEET GIG it is! I am massaged on a daily basis, get regular pedicures, am kissed, cuddled, and fawned over; but I know I have a job to do. After two days of turnout, I see my morning rider arrive in his wheelchair. I am tacked up and wait patiently at the mounting block while he is gently loaded onto my back. We walk into the arena and I notice he is feeling quite strong today. We do lots of circles and figures of eight.

The instructor asks for a trot; I continue walking. She asks again and I stop. Once she checks that the rider is centered I trot off and hear his gurgling laughter. The instructor asks, “do you want to go on a trail ride?”

“Yes!” I reply, but she doesn’t hear me. She asks again and my rider says, “Let’s do it!”

Yippee! I think, I’ll get to see new and different things. And, oh, that grass looks mightily tempting, but my leader checks me and says, “don’t event think about it, Buddy.”

Hmm, I think, this calls for the itchy leg trick, but she looks at me and says, “and don’t try the itchy leg trick either; I’m on to you!”

Rats! I think she knows me too well. We are almost back at the Learning Center and I feel my rider is tiring, happy, but tired. I stand absolutely still while he is dismounted to his wheelchair. I am led back to the cross-ties to be untacked. Thankful that my hooves will be picked again because I acquired a rock on the trail.

My leader says, “oh, sweetie!” as she gets rid of it, “that must have really hurt.” I am grateful it is out, but Sweetie? Come on, I’m Buddy, I’m a dude!

I go back to my corral happy to finish my breakfast, but wait; someone has put a carrot in my bucket! Ah, life is good here at Hearts!

Photography by Emily Hart-Roberts

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