Kevin walks his horse in preparation for a ride at Horsin’ Around Therapeutic Riding Center in Bosque.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

The open house for Bosque’s Horsin’ Around Therapeutic Riding Center on July 22 gave the public a unique insider’s look at the organization’s services in Valencia, Bernalillo and Socorro counties.

“Our mission is to improve the well-being of individuals through equine-assisted therapy. We believe that horses and the therapy they provide make a difference by creating strong and healthy individuals, families and communities,” executive director Robin Thomas said.

Thomas, her family, Iylse Gold, and anyone they could corral into helping gave the certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship center a new lease on life when Thomas went from volunteering to running the show.

Originally started in 2009 by Donna Tolbert, Horsin’ Around was on shaky ground when COVID hit, and Tolbert was contemplating hanging up her spurs for full-time retirement.

“I didn’t want it to close because I didn’t want them (the patients) to have nowhere to go. I don’t think I realized what I was taking on until after we were knee-deep. But I have so many good people. You know, Iylse helps me so much. She’s my PATH person. She knows the regulations and the rules with PATH,” Thomas said. “Then the board members are very active and good at fundraising, and they all helped me get this set up and, you know, just get the word out to the community.”

The word getting out also means there is a greater need for volunteers, and they are first on the center’s wish list of needs.

“All they need is passion and dedication. No horse skills are needed. There’s volunteering to be a horse sidewalker or leading a horse. And there are other things like barn help,” Gold said.

Other things include IT support, community relations, administrative support and volunteer coordinator.

Gold isn’t afraid to ask because she dishes out what she gets, and the compiled wish list to help the 501 (c) 3 nonprofit includes sponsoring the therapy horses Gus and Fly, gait belt, peacock stirrups, hand hold straps (for English saddles), a four-step mounting block (a great student Ag project), bean bags with numbers, letters or sayings and educational books and games related to horses.

On the higher end of potential donations are a well-mannered, good-with-children, stout-in-stature horse and a ceiling or wall-mounted chairlift for getting on and off horses.

Horsin’ Around’s staff isn’t afraid to beat the bushes for help because they all have seen the miracles of equine therapy firsthand.

One of those miracles is 47-year-old patient Brian who suffers from Fraser Syndrome and was born without eyes. In his time at Horsin’ Around, he has gone from being undisciplined and unable to care for himself to being a productive member of society. One of his accomplishments includes meeting “The Greatest” Mohammed Ali while performing as a drummer at the 2003 Special Olympics Orchestra in Ireland.

A lover of rap music, he’s known around the center for blasting the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” as he completes his final tasks.

“I’m getting it done out here. I like riding horses and doing what the instructors ask me to do. I do my exercises and listen to my instructor’s voice and stuff. And then just having fun riding horses,” Brian said.

While he cannot live independently, the discipline and problem-solving skills he has learned have translated to making life easier for his mother because he can now do many daily tasks like laundry on his own.

As Gold explains, Brian is an excellent example of what equine therapy can achieve.

“They can come out here no matter who you are or your challenge. It doesn’t matter. There is no judgment here, and the horses don’t judge. It’s horse time. We have to stay a little on time, but if it takes them a whole summer to get from the barrel to the horse, that’s okay,” Gold said. “They’re enjoying it. They’re getting something out of it. They’re growing either mentally or physically and expanding their world.”

Horsin Around’s board president Nick Lyle hoped the public had a positive takeaway from the open house.

“I hope they see the opportunity created here for all children who could benefit from the services. I think getting kids involved in whatever form or fashion they’re physically and mentally able to get involved is important,” Lyle said. “I’ve seen equine therapy work wonders for adults and kids. I want the word spread for people to understand the capabilities and resources we provide here, so we can help change people’s lives for the better.”