Keller’s Rocky Top Therapy Center, a horse riding center dedicated to helping people with disabilities, is continuing to thrive but at a new location in Roanoke.
Executive director Mike Hogg said the center, now called Victory Therapy Center, moved to the new location in December 2013 for its quieter atmosphere.
“The Keller location (on Keller Smithfield Road) was great and we had a lot of success there,” Hogg said. “But it needed quiet.”
Soon after signing a 20-year lease, Hogg and his team started renovating the 27-acre area, that had many hogs, snakes and deer roaming around it. They quickly optimized the land for therapeutic riding.
The center’s administration building was once a school in the 1990s, and the homes surrounding it housed foster kids.
Partnerships with Home Depot, American Airlines, Fort Worth Air Power and more helped bring it to life, Hogg said.
Physical therapist Suzanne Sessums said the new facility is quite an upgrade from where they were before.
“It’s very beautiful. A show-quality facility,” she said.
Sessums works with clients through physical exercise — clients will go through the typical therapeutic process like stretching, doing sit-ups and more — but all while on a horse.
“It’s a little more difficult because it’s a moving target, so the improvement is pretty huge,” she said.
Hogg, a retired Navy veteran and self-described survivor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said many of the clients the center sees have dealt with the same disorder.
He wanted to find an environment more suited for their needs.
“It hurts, and you don’t know why,” he said. “You can’t sleep but you’ll do almost anything just to sleep. That’s all you want. And quiet does so much to help calm you.”
The center sees military veterans for free, as well as people with disabilities or who have gone through some sort of trauma.
“Going through a trauma is kind of like a four-cylinder engine,” Hogg said. “It’s part physical energy, part mental energy, emotional energy and spiritual energy. When a violation happens it affects the emotional side and takes away from the others — it shuts you down and comes into your life trying to find a way to justify its existence, somewhere to store it.”
Clients will then meet the horses and see which connects with them the best.
“More often than not, we find the horse will pick the client,” Hogg said.
The center’s counselors also work with the horses and take emotional cues from them to find the best regimen for their clients.
“Horses have a very strong intuition and will size you up, and when a client finds one that they connect with, it allows them the ability to enjoy a more normal quality of life,” Hogg said.
For clients with physical ailments, riding a horse is like an “aggressive walk,” Hogg says — the movement of the horse’s hips will help riders the same way a walk would, but while sitting.
Sessums said the horses are their vital tool for helping change lives.
“But it’s not just [the client’s] life that’s being changed. It’s their whole family. There’s kids that come to us who reach maximum potential in regular therapy who can improve even more just through work with the horses.”
Hogg said volunteers are always welcome and needed.