Our mission at Hope in the Saddle is to share the most meaningful and inspiring stories that emerge from the horse world. Stories of how our relationships with horses can help us overcome life’s toughest challenges. We collect stories from all corners of the horse community. From barrel racers to bronc riders and competitive equestrians to backyard owners. The following stories are a few of our favorites from 2022.
Read More: From Hopeless to Healing to Healer
“We first met JT, a registered Quarter Horse, more than 10 years ago when my son was only 7, on the autism spectrum, nonverbal, and needing occupational, physical, and speech therapy. JT was a cutting horse who earned over $80,000 in his career before retiring to the most important job of his life: therapeutic riding.
The very first day we met JT, he was so gentle that my son was in the saddle within minutes, not afraid at all. By the end of the second visit, my son had a big smile on his face and didn’t want to get off JT. Throughout our weekly visits, my son learned to brush and care for JT, how to say ‘Whoa,’ make a kissing sound, and use rainbow reins to give commands.
His relationship with JT grew over the years, and today, my son speaks, reads beautifully, is physically strong, and is happy and content—all miracles that can be attributed to JT.
Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes to our dear friend on December 23, 2018.
He was the ideal horse to be a therapy horse, even after such a successful, high-paced lifestyle. He took his job so seriously, no matter what the level of ability of the child on his back. His heart was as big as he was. JT will live on in all of our hearts and minds forever.” —Allison B.
“Nugget is surprising. He’s young—only 8—and yet he is one of the most versatile equines in our herd at Hearts & Horses. His day may start with a 10-year-old and end with our oldest participant, who is 96.
He works in every program we offer and serves a wide range of needs. From our therapeutic riding program to our at-risk-youth program to our veterans’ program to our Riding in the Moment program for adults with dementia, there is no participant Nugget cannot reach.
Nugget has a particularly special bond with Alice. She’s 96 years old and although it’s difficult for her to stand for long periods, her riding seat is phenomenal.
Spending time with Nugget is the highlight of her day, especially if they get to ride outside. Our equine director put it best: “He walks like he’s crossing a field of teacups when they are on the trail. Nugget knows his cargo is precious and becomes soft but aware. The squadron of volunteers around him seems to be his parade audience as he goes out on the trail.”
At the end of a ride, Nugget has been known to lean over to get some snuggles in with Alice. She’s small and so he has to come to her—and boy does he love leaning in.” —Summer A.
“My son Cole is 21 years old and has Angelman syndrome. He has cognitive delays, no speech, sensory issues, and epilepsy. All of these make so many activities difficult for Cole. He started therapeutic horseback riding lessons at Hands, Hooves & Hope Ranch about five years ago, where he met Toast.
Toast came from a very abusive background, but after extensive work and training, he is now the sweetest and most gentle horse there!
Toast and Cole have an exceptionally unique bond. When Cole first started riding, he needed a leader and a volunteer sidewalker on each side of him to hold his legs. Because of Toast’s gentle nature, Cole now rides on his own!
Before every riding session, Cole gives Toast lots of love with hugs and kisses and Toast gives him loving nudges and even licks Cole’s helmet! On days when Cole is not able to get on Toast to ride, Toast allows Cole to walk him everywhere. And days when Cole can’t focus or struggles with seizures, Toast waits patiently for him. On days when Cole pulls too hard on the reins to stop Toast, Toast still stops and waits for Cole’s next command. When Cole suddenly tries to get off Toast in the middle of his lesson, Toast stands perfectly still.
Toast has given Cole so much confidence in himself and it has truly been a miracle to see Cole excel and shine in an activity.” —Kristin Z.
“Ruby has officially worked as a therapy horse for six years. Ruby loves her job, as evidenced by her dedication to keeping her riders safe. She is our steadiest horse for unsteady riders and riders with behavioral issues.
But the love the mare has for individuals with disabilities isn’t just evident while she’s working. On multiple occasions, she has been drawn to individuals with disabilities while just out for a trail ride with barn staff. On a recent ride, she stopped, refusing to walk on with the others in her group. Her rider noticed a boy with a developmental disability approaching her with arms outstretched. As he approached, his caregiver tried to stop him. Her rider indicated that he was welcome to come and pet her.
With tears in her eyes, his caregiver explained that he is legally blind, only seeing shadows, and has never before approached a horse or other animal along the trail. She also indicated that he is mostly non-verbal. As he was petting her, he repeated the word ‘horse.’ Her feet were planted until the boy had finished petting her. With reluctance, she left him to rejoin the group of other horses on the ride.
We have witnessed this type of behavior with individuals in wheelchairs, forearm crutches, and a partially paralyzed woman riding a recumbent bike with hand pedals. In each instance, she stops to await the individual’s approach or she approaches them on her own. Even when she is not working, she finds her people and shares her love.” —Fred J.
Editor’s note: Stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Hope in the Saddle
This content is provided by Hope in the Saddle, a program dedicated to sharing some of the most meaningful and important stories to emerge from the equestrian world: stories of how our relationships with horses can help us overcome life’s toughest challenges. Read more stories of hope and healing through horses at hopeinthesaddle.com.