Melise Madick’s face lit up beneath the visor of her riding helmet as the trot of the horse coaxed a giggle from the quiet 10-year-old.
She was accompanied by a trio of volunteers— one leading Rose, a docile paint horse, and two walking on either side—and her therapist as they navigated the ring Nov. 2 at Haven’s Horses Equine Therapy.
Each week, more than 70 special needs children and adults receive hippotherapy, which is physical therapy on horseback to improve strength, coordination and balance, or do therapeutic riding at the facility on the sprawling property of Christ’s Haven for Children just off Keller-Haslet Road in far north Fort Worth.
Even with demand for the hippotherapy, the Haven’s Horse Equine Therapy center is in jeopardy of closing.
A center in jeopardy
The center which started in 2008, may close if another charity, Apache’s Angels, can’t raise funds to take over the operation.
Haven’s Horses was supposed to generate enough funds to cover costs, but the center has been a drain on resources at Christ’s Haven for Children in the last several years, Executive Director Dwight Robarts said.
For more than 60 years, Christ’s Haven for Children has provided residential care in a home environment for children with challenging family circumstances.
Robarts said rising costs to care for 30 to 40 children at Christ’s Haven prompted the charity’s board of directors to look at closing Haven’s Horses.
Lynn Cunningham, director of Apache’s Angels Foundation, another non-profit which had been raising money to pay for therapy scholarships, said her organization is now looking for $45,000 in seed money to keep the center open and take over the business operations.
Celina Salinas, director of Haven’s Horses, said, “It would be a great loss to the community and to the families we’re serving.”
Children making progress
In the meantime, Melise and other children continue to make progress with the therapy the center provides.
Melise’s favorite part of her weekly ride?
“Trotting,” she said after her therapy session.
Melise’s mom, Minka Madick of Haslet, said her daughter has made amazing progress in the 16 months she’s been riding.
She’s gaining strength in her core, sitting up straighter, improving her mental processing and building her confidence. Melise has a rare form of epilepsy that results in weak muscles and delayed cognitive development.
“When she’s riding, she sits very well on the horse, even though when she’s standing her shoulders slump,” Minka Madick said. “She screamed bloody murder when she first saw the horse. Now she wants to trot, and she loves Rose.”
The next patient on a cloudy Wednesday morning is Curtis Lewis, 22, who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is visually and cognitively impaired.
Guardian/mom Anita Tinney of North Richland Hills, said Curtis has blossomed in three years of therapy. It has helped develop the strength to get in and out of his wheelchair, reduced spasticity in his muscles and expanded his vocabulary.
The hope to continue
Change is difficult for those with special needs, and having the same therapist, the same horse and many of the same volunteers helps the person build relationships and make progress, Salinas said.
Haven’s Horses is one of just a handful of local options for hippotherapy or therapeutic riding. Victory Therapy Center, which moved from Rocky Top Ranch in Keller to the Roanoke-Flower Mound border, and Equest in Wylie are the only hippotherapy sites in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
White Bridle, which took over the ring and pasture at Rocky Top, offers therapeutic riding and horse-drawn cart driving for children with autism and other disabilities. White Bridle may be forced to leave Rocky Top by plans to develop a tennis center on the property.
Cunningham learned about therapy on horseback when her disabled son, now 27, benefited from the treatment.
Now she’s a huge advocate of the practice.
“Most of your therapy is in clinical settings. This is a chance to get outside and interact with animals,” Cunningham said. It’s such a gift to them and their families.”
Iris Melton, a physical therapy assistant, has been overseeing sessions at Haven’s Horses for almost five years.
“There’s no mechanical tool that simulates human walking like riding a horse,” Melton said. “So many kids get burned out on therapy, but this is different. They come out here and don’t think they’re doing therapy.”
Cunningham estimates the annual cost of the operation at almost $300,000. They’re seeking funds, as well as donations of feed, riding equipment, shoeing services and more volunteers.
For more information, go to apachesangels.org.