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Family ranch opens equine therapy program

Though the practice has been around for decades, not a lot of people have heard of it.

Those who have participated swear by its results.

Equine-Therapy (ET) is not exactly how it sounds. Some people actually believe it is therapy for the animals rather than for the riders.

Quite simply, the exercise involves using horses to help individuals suffering from physical, emotional or psychological disorders.

Impulse control and learning boundaries are additional benefits according to experts in the field.

The decades old discipline arrived in this country with the establishment of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD).

It goes by a number of names: Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP), Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Horseback Riding among others.

Locally, one family has developed a facility that provides horse-assisted therapy.

Julie and Sheila Schmidt are the mother and daughter team who founded Freedom Reins Ranch Inc.

Like many mental health experts, both believe equine therapy instills individuals with increased trust and confidence as well as improve self-awareness and character.

The organization is holding a grand opening on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to introduce the community to their facility on the south end of town.

A physical therapy demonstration along with a group lesson are planned.

The event will wind down with a miniature horse demonstration at 3 p.m., along with free hot dogs and chips.

Julie Schmidt said the creation of Freedom Reins Ranch has been a family dream for many years.

She said financial gain was not a motivating factor in the decision. Helping people was.

“It has been a vision of ours for a long, long, time. Some things just started happening and we decided this past year that we were going to pursue it. It is a nonprofit organization so it’s not for our benefit,” she said.

The family is not undertaking the endeavor alone.

Schmidt said her organization has joined forces with Southern Nevada’s Affiliated Physical Therapy and Mobile Mental Health facility and is looking to expand services within the community.

“We started contracting with Affiliated Physical Therapy to do physical therapy on horseback. We are contracting with Mobile Mental Health to do behavioral lessons with therapists. Both of these are going to be supervised by the therapists themselves but our dream is to reach more of the community. We actually want to do some after school programs for kids that have working parents.”

Although facilitating mental and physical therapy is a major goal for the organization, Schmidt said clients get to learn additional skills that can create opportunities later on in life.

“My daughters have learned the value of responsibility with horses and what horses can do and how they can affect and change your life. Our dreams are pretty big, but we are starting out humbly and small. We have therapy horses and we are training them to walk up to the mounting block because some people may not be able to physically mount up on a horse so we can put them directly on the horse. We’re preparing the horses for the job they will be doing,” she said.

Schmidt noted that Freedom Reins Ranch is not a riding stable.

“It’s teaching the kids and adults to have a relationship with the horse. It’s not pony rides. It’s teaching them how to communicate with the horse. We do group lessons with adults and even though we have contracted with the two agencies, it’s not exclusive. Anybody can come but they have to be able to handle leading the horse. We are doing a beginners class, which are for those under 8 years old, 8-to-12 and then 13-to-18,” she said.

Schmidt said the physical therapy aspect of the program can also benefit the largest population in the Pahrump Valley, senior citizens.

“One person approached us because her mother had a stroke some time ago. She’s doing really well but she has some balancing issues. Being on horseback, it helps strengthen your core. Physical therapists know more about that than I do but we will take anybody,” she said.

Schmidt’s daughter Sheila said she knows firsthand the therapeutic value of working with the animals.

“Growing up with horses, I know the value of a relationship with a horse, can replace no other. That horse will never ever let them down. They will always be here and always have something for them to do. I want our clients to build that relationship with the horse and gain the confidence to be able to do something that to them, is out of the ordinary and have a place that is safe for them to do those things. That is some of the social and behavioral things that I’m looking for,” she said.

Located at 2281 E. Traci St., Freedom Reins Ranch is a multi-acre facility with six therapy horses, three of which are miniatures.

Part of the program’s curriculum encompasses proper care of horses, basic riding skills, building trust as well as proper tack maintenance taught by certified instructors.

For additional information call 513-3790 or 513-3791.

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