Located in Northern Colorado, the non-profit therapeutic riding facility provides equine assisted activities to adults and children with physical and cognitive disabilities, at-risk youth, seniors with Alzheimer's and dementia, and war veterans. The organization has been changing the lives of others since 1997.
"I've known about Hearts & Horses for years," says Dale Klotz, Gallagher Territory Manager. "So when they purchased the Miraco water tanks, I volunteered my time to help with the installation. It gave me the opportunity to meet some of the staff and see the facility first-hand."
Once the tanks were in place, Megan Mansfield, assistant equine manager for Hearts & Horses, approached Klotz with an idea. In her spare time, Mansfield belongs to an equine club where Klotz and his wife, Katrina, are also members. She knew Klotz had two horses: Hooch and Fritz, and she also knew the pair would be a perfect fit for Hearts & Horses' summer camp.
"The stars were aligned," says Mansfield. "We were looking to expand the number of horses for our summer camp and Klotz agreed the animals could use a job. They are quiet and compassionate horses, and I was confident they would be an excellent addition to any of our programs and activities."
During his first week, Hooch had the opportunity to also assist with the veterans program. "They paired my horse with a gentleman who served as a medic in the Gulf War," Klotz explains. "When he returned from active duty, the Veteran closed himself off, quit smiling and distanced himself from his family – including his wife. The family tried six or seven times to get him to participate in a therapy program, but to no avail. Thankfully he agreed to give Hearts & Horses a chance."
"The two just connected," says Klotz. "All the stress, all the past, just washed away." After several weeks working together, the Veteran asked to meet Hooch's owners, to which Klotz and his wife, happily agreed.
"He knew exactly who we were the second we walked in the door. He turned to us and said, 'This horse saved my life,' and was smiling from ear to ear," remembers Klotz. "And in that moment, it was as if everything just stopped out there that day. Here we thought our horses were just going to summer camp and it turns out they were doing so much more."
Fritz has also seen her fair share of success in the short time the horses have been involved with the organization. Klotz recalls a particularly special session when Fritz was matched with a child living with cerebral palsy.
"The young boy would only communicate by tapping on his leg," Klotz explains. "He would tap once for 'yes,' and twice for 'no.' After one of his sessions riding Fritz, the instructor asked the boy to tell the horse 'thank you,' to which the he quickly said audibly, 'Thank you!' And again, everything just stopped out there in that moment. It was incredible."
Mansfield says it's those priceless moments that keep her and the rest of the staff and volunteers at Hearts & Horses motivated to work hard each week to continue to provide valuable services to their guests. "It just proves that what we do here saves lives. And you can't put a price on that."
For Fritz and Hooch, they'll be ready to greet campers in the summer. In the meantime, the pair is so widely popular they've become full-fledge participants in all of Hearts & Horses' therapeutic programs.
"Even though they are my horses, so I'm a little biased, it's hard not to be touched with all the good they do," says Klotz. "Our horses do wonderful things out there."
To learn more about Hearts & Horses, you may visit their site at www.heartsandhorses.org.