● By Alexis Harborth
Words: Alexis Mays Photos: Rachel Benavides
There’s a therapeutic center in Flour Bluff whose seasoned professionals are named Chevy, Sugs, and Apple Pie.
These three horses, along with 15 others, are therapy animals at The Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center, an accredited, equine-assisted therapy and rehabilitation center for children and adults with physical, mental, emotional, and learning disabilities. Horse therapy can be used to treat many conditions, including spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.
Charlene Thomas is the founder and program director of The Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center. She explains the center’s purpose is individualized for each patient, but there’s a standard for their outcomes. “Glenoak's goal is to help each rider achieve the maximum independence his or her circumstances will allow.”
In fact, equine therapy is often described as “miracle treatment.” Stable Life Inc. reports that the first study about the benefits of horseback riding dates back to 1875, and recent studies about horses’ healing powers continue to show significant outcomes.
“The relationship between riders and the certified therapeutic riding instructors, special therapy horses, and volunteers is the catalyst to miracles in the lives of these gifted riders,” said Thomas.
Physically, the therapy helps by taking disabled riders through a complex series of movements that use all the body’s muscles. “The horse rhythmically and naturally moves the body in a manner similar to the human gait, improving posture, balance and muscle control,” Thomas explains.
This treatment creates more than head-to-toe physical benefits; it helps patients inside and out. “Benefits of Equine-Assisted Therapy are increased concentration, spatial awareness/orientation, self-awareness and self-discipline,” Thomas listed. “Also, increased independence at home and school, and self-esteem due to the acquisition of a skill in a recognized sport.”
Their 18 horses are used in private lessons and in group classes, which are held Monday through Saturday. They serve a wide range of South Texas, and it’s all been done without running a single commercial.
“We don't do any advertisement.” Thomas said, “All our clients have come to us from doctors’ referrals and word of mouth. Our students come from as far south as the Valley and as far north as Victoria.”
Although the business is thriving, Thomas hardly considers running The Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center work. “This is not a job, it is my passion.” Thomas continues, “At the age of 70, to be able to live your passion and see the smiles on these riders’ faces when they are on the horses is a gift from God.”