Horseback riding is a favorite past time for many Americans. Many people do not know that it is not just an enjoyable experience, but can also improve physical and emotional disabilities.
Hoofbeats to Healing is an organization founded 15 years ago by Tamera Tanner, and is designed as a therapeutic horse ranch dedicated to improving those with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Tanner said she never intended to start a therapeutic horse ranch, but loved working with horses. Looking back now, she said she can see how her life prepared her to start the organization.
Growing up with horses, Tanner said she felt inspired to help people with disabilities, and she used her horses to improve their bodies and minds.
Hoofbeats sees 50 riders a week, including Tom and Kristina Hansen.
Kristina Hansen was diagnosed with Williams syndrome at birth, and had trouble with reading, math and concentrating on her work. When Kristina Hansen entered high school, her parents decided to try horse therapy at Hoofbeats to Healing.
Kristina Hansen has been riding for 12 years, and her parents, Tom and Leeann Hansen, have watched her progress.
“Her cognitive skills and other abilities have greatly improved,” Tom Hansen said. “We can really see a difference since she started.”
Tom Hansen recently recovered from brain surgery and began riding at Hoofbeats two months ago. Following the surgery, Tom Hansen found difficulty concentrating and had problems with his memory.
“I have been able to return to work because of my decision to do horse therapy,” Tom Hansen said.
Tom Hansen rides twice a week and said he can see an increase in his memory strength and his ability to concentrate thanks to Hoofbeats.
Once a week, a group of BYU students go to Hoofbeats to help clean stalls, lead beginning riders and help brush and groom the horses. The group is organized by the school’s Y-Serve program and anyone can participate.
Craig Steiner, one of the volunteer directors, said he really enjoys helping the riders and working with the horses. Steiner and the other directors have a group of two to eight volunteers in the spring and summer.
“The horses know exactly what they are there to do,” said Leann Hansen, Kristina’s mother. “They have such great empathy for their riders, it is a unique experience to be able to see the horse to rider interaction.”