In 2001, Becky Dunning felt she wasn’t doing enough to give back. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were fresh in her mind, and she thought to herself, “I can’t do anything to really help in New York City, but there has to be something I can do to help in my community.”
A lifelong horsewoman, she turned to her horse life to find a sense of purpose. “At the time, I was on AQHA’s Foundation committee,” Becky shares. “I brainstormed with my friend Peggy Kimes about what we could do. I’d been to a show in Burbank, California; William Shatner’s charity reining event. There I saw a therapeutic riding demonstration, and it really moved me. Peggy and I knew that was it! And so we proposed that the Foundation add a branch to support therapeutic riding.”
If you’ve ever worked on a committee for an association, you know that nothing comes easily. Peggy and Becky persevered. They presented their idea to AQHA, and it went through the lengthy approval process, with fine-tuning and input from the organization along the way. Five years later, America’s Horse Cares became part of the AQHA Foundation.
“For seven years, Peggy and I hosted the Ranch Bash at our ranch in Scottsdale to raise money for America’s Horse Cares,” Becky recalls. “It served as our main fundraiser, which provides money for grants to various therapeutic riding centers.”
A Powerful Evolution
When Becky and Peggy first thought about therapeutic riding, it focused on riders with physical and/or cognitive special needs. But therapeutic riding evolved to be included as a valued outlet for those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders, including members of the military.
“Since we started America’s Horse Cares, there’s been an awakening in what our military is facing,” Becky shares. “Therapeutic riding is now instrumental in so many veterans’ lives, so we now include those programs when choosing where to award our grants. Veterans have looked me in the eye and said that riding saved their lives. That’s pretty powerful.”
Continuing the Legacy
This year, the Ranch Bash is making a comeback, thanks to Becky and Peggy’s adult children. Matt Kimes and his wife, Amanda, owners of Kimes Ranch Jeans, along with McKenzie Parkinson, Becky’s daughter and marketing manager of CR Ranchwear, have joined the forces of their brands, along with the Arizona Cutting Horse Association and Horse&Rider, to host the next generation of Ranch Bash on March 16 at Becky’s Almosta Ranch.
“The first thing people think about with therapeutic riding is special-needs children, but the truth is we all can use a little therapy,” Matt says. “Therapeutic riding isn’t limited to one sector of the population. We all know what horses mean to us, so we’re happy to be involved with a program that helps people get to know the animal we all love. Our hope is that we can make the therapeutic value of horses accessible to anyone who needs it.”
McKenzie agrees. “Our moms put so much into this charity, so this group coming together to revitalize their vision is very special to them. It’s very meaningful to our communities and our families. We want to honor what they did and raise awareness of the cause.”
“It’s been so exciting to hear the kids talking about it,” Becky beams. “This program is necessary, and it’s something that should be well-funded and well-exposed. It has tremendous results—it’s amazing what therapeutic riding can do. It changes lives—it saves lives. I can’t think of any other area to be involved.”