“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
That’s what British statesman Winston Churchill thought; and moreover, it’s what David and Teresa Miller, owners of Stars & Strides Therapeutic Riding Center believe.
Therapeutic riding is a field in which horses are used as a tool for physical therapy, emotional growth and learning. According to the Millers, many riders experience a connection to the horse that few sports can create.
“Not only does this help raise their self-esteem but it also teaches them essential skills,” David said. “It improves balance, creates trust and creates a friendship between rider and horse.”
The couple’s facility, located in northern Parker County near Peaster, began as the result of a need in their own family.
“Our youngest daughter Courtney was born with a variety of disabilities,” David said. “It was a mid-line defect, anything that fell in the center of her body, there was something wrong.”
So the couple placed Courtney in an equine assisted therapy program when she was about 10 to build up her core strength, muscles and hips.
“We discovered that not only did it help her physically, but also emotionally - with her self-esteem,” David added. “She really enjoyed it and later won three national championships.”
Courtney continued to ride for a number of years while Teresa began to volunteer at the facility where she rode in Flower Mound.
Teresa later became certified as an equine assisted therapy instructor through PATH International and started working at the facility, a fair distance from Parker County.
“We were sitting at the dinner table one night when [Teresa] said ‘I don’t believe there is an equine therapy center around here,’” David recalled. “So from that discussion we sought a non-profit status and opened our doors in 2012.”
On average, 35 people a week participate in the therapy sessions, mostly from the county, but some from west Fort Worth and even one as far away as Rowlett.
At Stars & Strides Stables, they serve all individuals with physical, intellectual, educational and emotional disabilities.
“We work with several who have autism, some stroke patients...just a variety of disabilities,” David said. “I’ve seen kids speak their first words from the back of a horse.”
David recalled a man who went to the center two years ago. It took everything they could do to get him on a horse due to the nature of his disability.
“We still help him in the saddle, but about six months ago he had gotten to a place where he can steer the horse and handle it by himself,” David added. “It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
What’s more, riders at Stars & Strides participate in equestrians with disabilities competitions such as the Chisholm Challenge in Fort Worth and the Top Hand competition in Houston.
“They have to really work at it,” David said. “Not all of them win, but when someone wins a ribbon or a belt buckle it means a lot to them. It’s a huge experience for them, regardless of where they place, they are all winners in my book."
David became emotional when he told the story of one of his riders who won first place at a competition three years ago.
“I was in the stands shooting pictures and I looked behind me and saw his mother crying,” David said. “I said ‘Isn’t this exciting? He won first place!’ She said, 'You don’t understand. In all of these years this is the first time he has ever won - anything.'”
The youngest rider at the center is Wyatt Tangney, who is almost 2 years old. His dad, Steve said the therapy center has been a wonderful experience for Wyatt and his family.
“It’s been a great experience,” Steve said. “Wyatt has been riding since he could sit up.”
For children and adults with disabilities, working with horses like theirs can be a life-changing experience, David said.
“We believe no other therapeutic recreational opportunity offers so many benefits in such a holistic way,” he said. “Students will be taught equine care, riding, handling and management to their best level of ability.”
Lance Winter: 817-594-9902, Ext. 102,
About Stars & Strides Therapeutic Riding Center
Stars & Strides Stables is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 2012 to give riders with disabilities a place to learn and become effective and competitive equestrians. Stars & Strides is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) certified facility located in Weatherford, TX.
For more information contact David Miller at 817-713-0601