Categories
SGV Tribune

Shadow Hills horse therapy center, boasting 50-year history, hopes to weather the novel coronavirus

Nonprofit which offers a unique form of therapy based on the one-time Olympic sport of equestrian vaulting.

When the children show up for equestrian vaulting lessons, their Irish draught horse Moira always seems to get a twinkle in her eyes.

“She wants to nuzzle, and sniff them, and say ‘hi,’” said Michelle Newman, executive director of AHEAD with Horses, a horse therapy center for children with disabilities that has temporarily shuttered due to the novel coronavirus.

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman brushes Galaxy, a Holsteiner horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Horses at Ahead with Horses in Shadow Hills, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Sound
    The gallery will resume inseconds
  • Horses at Ahead with Horses in Shadow Hills, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman takes Berit, a Norwegian Fjord horse, out for some exercise at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Horses at Ahead with Horses in Shadow Hills, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman pets Galaxy, a Holsteiner horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman pets Galaxy, a Holsteiner horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman kisses Galaxy, a Holsteiner horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman pets Galaxy, a Holsteiner horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Horses at Ahead with Horses in Shadow Hills, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman exercises Berit, a Norwegian Fjord horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman exercises Berit, a Norwegian Fjord horse, at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Ahead with Horses Executive Director Michelle Newman takes Berit, a Norwegian Fjord horse, out for some exercise at the Shadow Hills horse ranch, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Horses at Ahead with Horses in Shadow Hills, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Ahead with Horses provides disabled children therapeutic horse riding and has been temporally closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

of

Expand

Moira came to the Shadow Hills-based therapy center after her previous owner felt bad about going off to college and leaving her with little to do in their backyard. She loves getting petted by the younger kids, Newman said.

But these days, there are no children around to pet Moira. She and five other, mostly retirement-age horses at the 52-year-old center have been idled by the pandemic.

Without the lessons, one of her stable mates, a 20-year-old Mustang with arthritis named Geronimo, has appeared restless lately. He has been kicking over his water bucket, and opening and closing his sliding door, Newman said.

And there is also Galaxy, their biggest horse at 17.2 hands tall, who gets called into the corral if a child needs to ride together with an instructor. The Holsteiner appears to be a favorite of one student and his parent, who recently sent a message bundled with a donation. It read: “Sending our April dues, as Galaxy still needs to eat. Oliver is sending Galaxy a big hug. Hope to see everyone soon.”

Also being cared for are a Norwegian Fjord horse named Berit, a Pony of the Americas named Justin, and Casini, an Oldenburger.

Their horses are the backbone of the nonprofit, which offers a unique form of therapy based on the one-time Olympic sport of equestrian vaulting. They were among the gentlest, least irritable and unlikeliest-to-spook horses they could pick for their students, children with disabilities who depend on them to improve their physical strength, and to teach them social and speaking skills.

The vaulting activity appears to be amenable to a variety of disabilities that include autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, quadri- and paraplegia and seizure disorders, the nonprofit’s board members said.

But these days, without lesson fees, it is that much harder to keep the alfalfa oat cubes flowing into their horses’ feed buckets, to clean out their stalls and to keep the horses groomed. Rent and utility bills are still due.

A soccer ball can be stored away, she said, but “you can’t just put them (the horses) on a shelf and wait for things to blow over.”

In mid-March, just before the stay-at-home orders were issued by California and Los Angeles, their board decided to pause their lessons, Newman said. They felt their students, many of whom have pre-existing conditions, were among the most vulnerable to the virus.

They had plans to move to a new location in Lake View Terrace, but those are on hold, she said.

Newman said they are trying to make up the difference by applying for disaster-related assistance. She said they are still hearing back on emergency loan from the Small Business Association, and the payroll protection program. Many assistance programs are unavailable to nonprofits, she said.

They usually do a few fundraisers during the year, including a community fair at their stables. But those have been sideline, also because of the novel coronavirus.

They are now trying to get the word out about an online fundraiser, an effort that has so far been a bit slow-going. About 13 days in, they have raised around $275 out of a goal of $25,000, according to their Facebook donation page.

On their half-century-old history, they have gone through their share of “rough patches,” and they had worked to keep the nonprofit running after their founder, and creator of the vaulting therapy classes, Liz Helms, died in 2012.

Newman hopes they can come out ahead, again.

“The therapy we do helps improve the lives of the children we serve,” she said. “We want to be able to get back to that.”